On August 30, concerning President Barack Obama’s reelection prospects, Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor and author of The Keys to the White House: A Surefire Guide to Predicting the Next President, told US News: “I don’t see how Obama can lose.”
Lichtman’s presidential election success formula, which has correctly predicted the winner of the popular vote in every contest since 1984, requires that the party currently holding the White House prevail on eight of thirteen “keys.” Lichtman contended that Obama was winning nine of them, with a tenth, whether the economy is in recession during the campaign, pegged as “undecided.”
What a difference three weeks makes.
Lichtman’s undecided key was questionable from the get-go. Even if the economy isn’t in recession as normally defined next year, almost everyone agrees that it will feel like one. The White House’s “alternative economic forecast” predicts that the unemployment rate will be at or above 9% throughout next year. The Congressional Budget Office hedges just a little, projecting “close to 9 percent through the end of 2012.” Both may be overly optimistic. Another month or two of job reports showing zero job gains or even job losses will almost certainly push the unemployment rate higher; if they don’t, it will only mean that “going Galt” has become more widespread. No incumbent president since World War II has won reelection with a jobless reading above 7.2%.
Lichtman believed, and probably still does, that Obama has met the first of his two “foreign/military” keys requiring “a major success in foreign or military affairs” because of Osama bin Laden’s assassination. While very important, whether it’s electorally “major” is debatable, especially considering the event’s subsequent mishandling. Even conceding bin Laden, an Islamist-dominated Libya or Egypt, each of which is quite possible by next fall, could ruin Lichtman’s other “foreign/military” key requiring no significant failures.
He also felt that Obama was winning the “scandal” key, which requires that “[t]he incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.” He then revealed that he’s not a close follower of the news beyond the Associated Press, the New York Times, and the ABC-CBS-NBC axis when he said: “This administration has been squeaky clean.”
Before readers double over in spasms of laughter, note that the presence or absence of “taint” is in the eyes of voters and depends heavily on whether scandals, to the extent they exist, have penetrated public perception. One dictionary definition of “scandal” calls it “a disgraceful or discreditable action, circumstance, etc.,” but another requires “damage to reputation; public disgrace.”
Concerning the latter definition, Lichtman’s own ignorance demonstrated that he was probably right about his scandal key at the end of August, despite at least the following unreported or underreported items listed here which have arguably met the former.
Then came Solyndra, LightSquared, and Gunwalker.