The presidential election campaign in the United States is likely to cost not less than two billion dollars between the candidates, 13 times the bill 30 years ago. But campaigns can have little or no effect on the outcome, which is determined by certain fixed factors, argues Allan J Lichtman, Professor of History at the American University.
In an interaction with senior editors at Hindustan Times, Prof Lichtman predicted that the victory of Barack Obama is certain, basing his analysis on “the 13 keys to the White House,” a framework that he used to correctly predict seven presidential elections. The 13 keys range from the charisma of the incumbent to the administration’s major success in a foreign policy issue. Of the 13 keys, Obama has the advantageous position in at least 10.
Lichtman said the American public is rarely swayed by details of foreign policy or domestic politics, but are influenced by spectacles. Consequently, the elimination of Osama Bin Laden would remain in the American consciousness for long, while the failures in the Middle East would have little recall value as an election issue. Lichtman said the same is true for domestic politics too. Obama’s new health care initiative would have a high impact on electoral behavior for the sheer scale of it rather than its actual desirability. “It’s only the stunning successes or failures that will influences voters,” he said.
Lichtman’s predicting a repeat performance by Obama. Below are each of the keys and how it falls for Obama.
Party mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the US House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. Says Lichtman, “Even back in January 2010 when I first released my predictions, I was already counting on a significant loss.” Obama loses this key.
Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination. Says Lichtman on Obama’s unchallenged status, “I never thought there would be any serious contest against Barack Obama in the Democratic primary.” Obama wins this key.
Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president. Easy win here for Obama.
Third Party: There is no significant third party challenge. Obama wins this point.
Short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. Here Lichtman declares an “undecided.”
Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. Says Lichtman, “I discounted long term economy against Obama. Clearly we are in a recession.” Obama loses this key.
Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. “There have been major policy changes in this administration. We’ve seen the biggest stimulus in history and an complete overhaul of the healthcare system so I gave him policy change,” says the scholar. Another win for Obama.
Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term. Says Lichtman, “There wasn’t any social unrest when I made my predictions for 2012 and there still isn’t.” Obama wins a fifth key here.
Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. “This administration has been squeaky clean. There’s nothing on scandal,” says Lichtman. Another Obama win.
Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. Says Lichtman, “We haven’t seen any major failure that resembles something like the Bay of Pigs and don’t foresee anything.” Obama wins again.
Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. “Since Osama bin
Laden was found and killed, I think Obama has achieved military success.” Obama wins his eighth key.
Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. Explains Lichtman, “I did not give President Obama the incumbent charisma key. I counted it against him. He’s really led from behind. He didn’t really take the lead in the healthcare debate, he didn’t use his speaking ability to move the American people during the recession. He’s lost his ability to connect since the 2008 election.” Obama loses this key.
Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. Says Lichtman, “We haven’t seen any candidate in the GOP who meets this criteria and probably won’t.” Obama wins, bringing his total to nine keys, three more than needed to win reelection.