Six Questions that May Decide the Presidential Contest of 2012

According to recent polls, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are beating President Barack Obama. Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are all within the margin of error. Yet the potential candidates aren’t ready to measure drapes for the Oval Office.

Said Huckabee recently, “I don’t think that Barack Obama is going to be easy to beat.” Huckabee’s caution is appropriate. Running a losing presidential campaign isn’t a way to enhance your influence. In addition, a Huckabee loss in the general election would be used against any conservative Evangelical running for the White House in the future.

With such high stakes, betting on early polls is folly. Liberal analyst Nate Silver hit the nail on the head, saying the “idea of trying to apply a ‘likely voter’ model 2.5 years in advance of an election is dubious.” There is a more scientific way to have a picture of what America’s electoral landscape looks like for 2012. Professor Allan Lichtman’s 13 Keys method has predicted the popular vote outcome of every election since 1984, and the keys retroactively explain the popular vote in every election since 1856.

Lichtman’s keys measure the mood of the nation. Each statement, if true, favors the reelection of the incumbent. If eight or more statements are true, the incumbent party will be reelected. If this is not the case, the incumbent will lose. How do these indicators look right now?

Four of these key statements will be true or will likely be true, three of these statements are false or will likely be false, and the remaining six are toss-ups.

True or Likely True

  • Obama will be the incumbent.
  • He will not likely face a serious opponent in the Democratic Primary.
  • He’ll still have his charisma.
  • He has effected a major change in policy.

This fourth key deserves an asterisk after the passage of ObamaCare. Lichtman had programs such as Social Security and Medicare in mind when coming up with the policy change key, and both of these bills enjoyed vast bipartisan support in Congress and with the general public.

It is unprecedented for the president and Congress to effect a major policy change on something so personal and on something that Americans don’t want, so a historical model that assumes that major policy changes are passed as a result of wide, public support may need tweaking.

False or Leans False

  • Party mandate
  • Long-term economy
  • Foreign policy success

These keys look to favor the GOP. For the party mandate key to be false, Republicans must pick up a modest 26 House seats, which would reduce the number of Democrats in the House below the 233 they held after the 2006 midterms.

In order for the long-term economy key to favor the president, “real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.” Given the strong growth enjoyed during most of the Bush years and the weakness of the economy so far, this seems quite unlikely to occur.