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Historian Who Correctly Predicted Every Presidential Election Since 1984 Makes 2020 Pick

Allan Lichtman Predicts Biden Will Defeat Trump In November

Joe Biden and Donald Trump
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, left, will challenge President Donald Trump on Nov. 3. AP Photo

Since 1984, historian and American University professor Allan Lichtman has correctly guessed who would win the presidency, even President Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016.

Using keys or indicators to predict the nation’s future leader, Lichtman’s scale awards a true or false value to 13 statements. So long as six or more of these statements are true, the incumbent party stays in the White House. The keys factor in strength of the economy, incumbency, contests, policy changes, scandals, social unrest and even the charisma of the incumbents and challengers.

In an interview on “The Morning Show” with Kate Archer Kent, Lichtman explained that while elections conventionally are predicted by weighing the candidates relative to each other, his keys focus more on the record of the incumbent party.

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Kate Archer Kent: Let’s cut to the chase. Who are you predicting will win in November?

Allan Lichtman: Based upon my 13 keys to the White House, which gauge the strength and fulfillment of the party holding the White House, it takes six negative keys to predict their defeat. That would be Donald Trump and the Republicans. In late 2019, Trump only had four negative keys.

But his failed response to many crises that have arisen in 2020 has resulted in the most sudden and dramatic reversal of fortune in the history of the U.S. In the matter of a few months, three more keys have turned against the incumbent Trump. With seven negative keys against him, Trump is a predicted loser in his bid for reelection in November.

KAK: Your keys focus more on governing than on campaigning. Why?

AL: The keys are based upon the insight that American presidential elections are primarily votes up or down on how well the party holding the White House has governed. Speeches, debates, ads, the tricks of the campaign fundraisers, all these conventional measures have virtually no impact on the outcome of the election.

The keys tell you to keep your eye on the big picture of incumbent party strength and performance. They look at things like midterm elections or midterm referendum on the incumbent president, third parties, long and short term economy, scandal, social unrest, policy change, foreign policy successes and failures.

Only two keys have anything to do with the candidates. And they are very high threshold keys asking whether the incumbent party candidate or the challenging party candidate is one of those once in a generation inspirational, charismatic candidates like Ronald Reagan in the 1980s or Barack Obama in 2008.

KAK: Your method has been criticized particularly for using candidates’ charisma. How do you measure a subjective thing like charisma?

AL: It’s not strictly subjective. When I first came up with the keys, I was blasted by the professional forecasting for using judgment in calling some of the keys. And I kept telling people, this is the human world. This is the social world. You have to use judgment. Historians use judgment all the time. It took about 10 years for the professional forecasters to realize the attempt to have purely cut and dried object model don’t work, and that the best models are those like the keys, which combine objective indicators like economic growth with judgmental indicators like charisma.

There’s a track record of the keys going all the way back to 1860. So you’ve got to judge whether you think someone is charismatic or not, look how it’s been answered through all these many years.

KAK: There’s still roughly three months to go before the presidential election. Could these keys change ahead of November?

AL: Not likely. The keys are the big picture. They’re not manipulable. You don’t suddenly change the situation abroad, although it could change rapidly and usually negatively. The economy doesn’t just change on a dime. Social unrest doesn’t go away overnight.

But there are two things outside the realm of the keys or any prediction systems that do keep me awake at night. One is voter suppression. Donald Trump and his Republicans depend upon old white guys like me, the most shrinking part of the electorate. They can’t manufacture more old white guys, but they can try to suppress the growth of the rising Democratic base of minority and young voters. That worries me.

The other thing that worries me is Russian intervention. We know the Russians are coming back; they’re already doing it, and they probably learned a lot in four years. I know that as in 2016, Donald Trump will welcome and exploit any Russian intervention on his behalf.

KAK: Can you talk about the changes that happened between 2016 and the present?

AL: The critical thing that differentiates Trump in 2016 from Trump now is that Trump is the incumbent. This means Trump is running on his record. He had no record to defend in 2016. He could say whatever he wanted. It didn’t matter. But he made a tremendous mistake as the incumbent president.

I’m looking on my wall here in my study and I have a note on my Washington Post prediction of Trump’s win in 2016. It says, “Professor, congrats. Good call.” And in big Sharpie letters, “Donald J. Trump.” He acknowledged my prediction, but he didn’t understand the thesis behind the keys, which is that governing, not campaigning, counts. So when he was confronted with the big crises of 2020 — the pandemic, the demands for social justice — instead of dealing with them substantively, he thought he could talk his way out of them.

The result is a pandemic was raging. The economy was plunging. Social unrest stalks the land and these turned three keys against him.