Speaking to Fox News, American University’s Prof. Allan Lichtman explained his prediction for a Biden victory based on his Keys to the White House model. First created in 1981 alongside Russian scientist Vladimir Keilis-Borok and later published in a book in 1996, the model is based on earthquake studies and has a set of 13 “keys” that are used as predictors for determining the outcome of the US presidential elections. Notably, it is based entirely on the performance of the incumbent and their party, which will determine if their party will secure the Oval Office for another term or if it will be lost to the opposition. These keys cover a wide variety of topics, including scandal, a party’s control of the House of Representatives, the state of the economy, social unrest, foreign/military successes and failures, charisma and so on.
In essence, “It’s governing, not campaigning, that counts,” Lichtman explained. Under this theory, whichever side holds six or more Keys in their favor will win the election, while campaigning and comments made during the campaign are dismissed by the voters as campaign rhetoric and spin.
It was utilizing this theory that Lichtman successfully predicted Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, being one of the few forecasters to do so rather than favor Hillary Clinton. This did not go unnoticed by Trump, who actually wrote Lichtman a thank-you note on a copy of a Washington Post article about the prediction.
But this time, Trump’s prospects don’t look as strong.
“Now that Trump is the incumbent, he has seven Keys against him,” Lichtman explained to Fox News, compared to the six Keys in his favor in 2016. “My prediction is that Donald Trump will become the first sitting president since George H. W. Bush in 1992 to lose a reelection bid, and Joe Biden will become the next president of the United States.”
Lichtman attributed these results entirely to the events of 2020. Prior to this, Trump’s prospects looked far better, with only four Keys out against him. However, this was changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic crisis, as well as the widespread social unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Lichtman quoted former US President Herbert Hoover, who sat in the Oval Office at the start of the Great Depression.
“When you’re president, you get credit for the sunshine and the blame for the rain,” Lichtman explained. “And it’s raining pretty hard on America right now.”
Lichtman later took to social media to reaffirm his prediction, writing on Twitter that “My final prediction based on the Keys to the White House stands unchanged. I am still predicting that [Donald Trump] becomes the first sitting president to lose reelection since 1992 and that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States.”
My final prediction based on the Keys to the White House stands unchanged. I am still predicting that @realDonaldTrump becomes the first sitting president to lose reelection since 1992 and that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States.https://t.co/GRLhNaQE0p
— Allan Lichtman (@AllanLichtman) October 31, 2020
It should be noted that one of the Keys against Trump is for foreign/military successes. This is despite Trump’s recent victories in the diplomatic arena, succeeding in ushering in normalized ties between Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan. However, as reported by American University, Lichtman defends considering this Key as being held against him. “I almost never turn a key based on a treaty unless it is of great significance and broadly acclaimed in the United States,” he explained, adding that he did not turn it for the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan either, despite Jordan being “a much more important nation than the ones involved in the current treaty. The current treaty has barely made a ripple in the United States.”
Lichtman added that this particular Key is usually always held against the incumbent, and in fact he has only ever given it to the incumbent once since he began predicting elections, which was ” for the monumental arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union during the second term of President Ronald Reagan.”
Despite its widespread popularity, the Keys to the White House model has not gained universal acceptance, and many have pointed out holes in its methodology, such as how it seems to primarily predict the winners of the popular vote rather than the electoral college. This is reinforced by the outcome of the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Lichtman had predicted a Gore victory, but Bush was elected to the Oval Office despite Gore’s win in the popular vote. That being said, however, the opposite occurred in 2016, with Trump winning the Oval Office as per Lichtman’s prediction despite Clinton’s success in the popular vote.