Skip to comments.Election 2000: The Keys Point to Gore
Posted on 02/27/2004 1:01:46 PM PST by William McKinley
To understand what is really going on in the presidential election of 2000 it is first necessary to ignore the ubiquitous polls and the day-to-day coverage of the campaign. Presidential elections are not decided by how well candidates perform on the campaign trial, but by how well the party in power has governed during the three and a half years before the campaign begins. A pragmatic American electorate decides in each presidential election whether or not the record of the incumbent party merits a new term in office.
Based on the performance of the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore will be the next president of the United States. There is little or nothing that challenging-party candidate Texas Governor George W. Bush can do to revive his presidential prospects.
A predicted Gore victory this Fall is the verdict of the Keys to the White House, a forecasting system based on the study of every American presidential election since 1860. The Keys gauge the strength, unity, and performance of the party in power, disclosing whether that party has crossed the threshold separating victory from defeat.
I first developed the Keys to the White House in 1981 in collaboration with Volodia Keilis-Borok, a world-renowned authority on prediction models. Retrospectively, the Keys account for presidential election outcomes from 1860 to 1980. Prospectively, the Keys have predicted well ahead the results of elections from 1984 to 1996. The same pragmatic criteria that accounted for the victory of Abraham Lincoln over Stephen Douglas in the horse and buggy days of American politics, also predicted Bill Clinton's victory over Bob Dole in the era of television, polls, jet planes, and the Internet.
The Keys are 13 true-or-false diagnostic questions that are stated as propositions that favor reelection of the incumbent party. When five or fewer of these propositions are false, the party in power wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.
Unlike prediction models that focus on the economy, the keys measure incumbent party performance across a broad range of concerns. These include political and social developments and foreign policy as well as economics. Americans are not so narrow-minded as to vote their pocketbook alone.
In an article published in the November/December 1999 issue of Social Education I used the keys to forecast the results of the presidential election of 2000. This was long before the parties chose their nominees and long before the polls or any other forecasting model could provide any reliable insight into election results. In that article I observed that "despite the negative polls, the record of the Clinton administration is sufficiently strongif just barelyto enable its nominee to defeat George Bush or any other Republican candidate for president in 2000." The Democrats could forfeit the election only by waging a "bloody nomination struggle."
No such struggle ensued this year, as Vice President Al Gore trounced former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley in the Democratic primary and caucus contests. Gore wrapped up his party's nomination on "Super Tuesday"--March 7, 2000--and unified the incumbent party behind his leadership. By securing the Democratic nomination without a protracted and divisive struggle, Gore virtually secured his victory in a general election that would not take place for another eight months.
The incumbent Democrats now have eight keys lined up in their favor and five keys counted against them--one key short of the six negative keys needed to predict the incumbent party's defeat. In principle, although not likely in practice, two keys could still change direction.
Although it is unlikely, consumer activist Ralph Nader could conceivably engineer the defeat of Al Gore if his insurgent presidential campaign nets him the 5 percent or more of the popular vote needed to turn the third-party key against the party in power. The need to blunt Nader's appeal to progressive-minded voters helps explain why Gore delivered a speech at the Democratic Convention that observers described as "liberal" and "populist."
Although Nader has surpassed the 5 percent threshold in some polls, third-party candidates tend to fade in the voting booth as voters focus on the major-party contenders. Based on the experience of past elections, third-party candidates generally receive a popular vote percentage equal to about half of their largest percentage in the pre-election polls. This rule would put Nader below 5 percent on Election Day.
It is also possible, although unlikely, that the Democrats could recapture the foreign policy success key if a credible and comprehensive Middle East settlement were achieved before November. This would reduce the deficit of the party in power from five to four keys, ensuring a Gore victory regardless of the outcome of the Nader campaign.
Ironically, George W. Bush may lose this election and the chance to establish a Bush dynasty for the same reason that his father, George H. W. Bush, won the presidency in 1988. This year, Bush is in a similar position not to his father, but to his father's 1988 challenger, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Like Dukakis, Bush is battling a sitting Vice President, leading a unified incumbent party at a time of prosperity, peace, and tranquility at home. Like Dukakis, moreover, he has failed to abandon conventional politics in favor of bold and creative initiatives designed to alter the basis on which the electorate makes its decision.
Thus, on balance, barring a most improbable turn of events, the American people will ratify the record of the current Democratic administration this year
The Keys are statements that favor the reelection of the incumbent party. When five or fewer statements are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.
KEY 1 (Party Mandate): After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. (TRUE)
KEY 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. (TRUE)
KEY 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. (FALSE)
KEY 4 (Third party): There is no significant third-party or independent campaign. (TRUE)
KEY 5 (Short-term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. (TRUE)
KEY 6 (Long-term economy): Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. (TRUE)
KEY 7 (Policy change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. (FALSE)
KEY 8 (Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term. (TRUE)
KEY 9 (Scandal): The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. (FALSE)
KEY 10 (Foreign/military failure): The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. (TRUE)
KEY 11 (Foreign/military success): The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. (FALSE)
KEY 12 (Incumbent charisma): The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. (FALSE)
KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (TRUE)
TRUE: 8 KEYS FALSE: 5 KEYS PREDICTION: A GORE VICTORY
Perhaps he was embarrassed by the fact that the system got 2000 wrong. Of course, just because a system is not always right does not mean that it is not usually right. So I thought I would save Lichtman the effort and take a look at the keys for him for the upcoming election. (I am not saying I think the system is worth a damn, mind you, but I figure if he was going to propose it he shouldn't let a single setback ruin his efforts).
With that in mind, here are how the 13 keys work out now.
KEY 1 (Party Mandate): After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. (TRUE- we had 226 seats after the 1998 elections and now we have 228).
KEY 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. (TRUE- Bush has the nomination uncontested)
KEY 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. (TRUE- Bush is President)
KEY 4 (Third party): There is no significant third-party or independent campaign. (TRUE- unless one considers Nader significant. Significant is considered 5%, and he didn't get that last time, he won't get it this time, and besides he's on the left flank and would hurt Kerry)
KEY 5 (Short-term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. (TRUE- the economy is in recovery)
KEY 6 (Long-term economy): Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. (FALSE- thanks to the recession which started in Clinton's last year, and 9/11)
KEY 7 (Policy change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. (TRUE- prescription drug coverage and the tax cuts qualify)
KEY 8 (Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term. (TRUE- despite the Democrats' best efforts)
KEY 9 (Scandal): The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. (TRUE- again despite the Democrats' best efforts. Or, if we want to be generous to the Democrats and say that no WMD is a 'crisis', we can give them this key.)
KEY 10 (Foreign/military failure): The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. (TRUE- again, unless we call no WMD a major foreign affairs failure.)
KEY 11 (Foreign/military success): The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. (TRUE- Taliban, Saddam, and Charles Taylor all gone. Qaddafi deciding to give up his WMD programs.)
KEY 12 (Incumbent charisma): The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. (TRUE- people like Bush even if they don't like his programs)
KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (FALSE- Kerry is not charismatic, but most people concede he served with honor in Vietnam-- even if he tried really hard to dishonor himself after returning home. Most voters will consider him to be a bit of a hero.)
TRUE: 11 keys. FALSE: 2 keys.
Or, if we count WMD twice as failures,
TRUE: 9 keys. FALSE: 4 keys.
According to Lichtman's system, there is nothing Kerry can do to win. I wonder why he has not written an article explaining this, like he did in late 1999?
I also think I would be remiss if I didn't posit why, if his system had worked in every election from 1860 to 1996, it failed in 2000. I see two answers.
First, there was this key:KEY 5 (Short-term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. (TRUE)We now know that while it was not common knowledge, during the latter part of the campaign the economy actually was in recession.
Second, is this key:KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (TRUE)Obviously, charisma is subjective, but it should have been clear to Lichtman that Bush is a likeable guy. He is no Reagan, but except for rabid partisans (who hate him with a passion), most people react positively to Bush. That is the definition of charisma. So while Lichtman had scored it as 8 true keys and 5 false (with 6 keys indicating a loss by the incumbent party), the real score was 6 true keys and 7 false. His system, in retrospect, got it right, even if Lichtman got it wrong.
Lichtman got it wrong, of course, because he was a Clintoon/Gore toady.
The old lefty can't admit he was wrong.
No such divergence, moreover, would have occurred except that ballots cast by African-American voters in Florida were discarded as invalid at much higher rates than ballots casts by white voters.ROFL! What a toady.
Did it? Or did the Third Party/Nader key switch on him? And Gore won the popular vote as well.
He's a smirking, condescending extremely annoying ( forgive the redundancy ) lefty.
That's probably how I would have explained it away, had I been in Lichtman's position. His other option was to acknowledge that every single academic predictor got the election wrong (some had Gore winning by double digits), so obviously there was an unconventional dynamic involved in the election (e.g. character, social issues, etc.).
But Lichtman's actual excuse is awfully lame. To suggest that his system is so finely tuned and has such a small margin of error that it could discern a few thousand uncounted ballots in a single state is preposterous.
It certainly is helpful, though, when people wear signs that say "I am a left wing lunatic". Takes the guesswork out of things.
The third party did exactly what he said it would- namely pull in about 2.5%.
And his qualifications about the popular vote are new; he hadn't been claiming it before.
He was wrong.
The reasons could be that the economy switched on him, that he underestimated charisma, that his system just didn't work this one time, and/or that his system has no predictive value at all. Any combination thereof.
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