13 reasons why Hillary Clinton will (probably) win the Presidential Election

There are 96 days until Election Day, but I’m already pretty sure Hillary Clinton will win the election. The Keys to the White House by Allan Lichtman and Vladimir Keilis-Borok is a simple mathematical model that predicts who win a Presidential election. This model predicts who will win months or even years before an election. You can read the writeup in OR/MS Today here. Let’s look at why Hillary will likely win in 96 days.

The model works by considering 13 factors that are equally weighted in the model. The reference point is the person running in the same party as the incumbent President, which is Hillary Clinton in 2016.

1. Party Mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than after the previous midterm elections.
FALSE: 193 Democrats in 112th Congress but 188 in 114th Congress

2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.

3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.

4. Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign.
TRUE (so far!)

5. Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.

6. Long term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
TRUE: 1.6% vs. 1.5% and 1.4% Source: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.KD.ZG

7. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.

9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.

12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.

13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.

There are five “Falses.” When five or fewer statements are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins. It looks like barring a surge ahead for third party candidate to something like 1992 Ross Perot levels (see #4), five or fewer statements will continue to be false. I’m not sure if the model is flexible to account for a divisive figure like Donald Trump, but we will find out soon.

What is interesting is that this model requires no polling information, which is a major input requirement to most other models (like the one at FiveThirtyEight). It instead looks at underlying causes for support for the political parties based on how satisfied we are with various things that have happened, hence the “keys” about social unrest, war, major policy change, major scandal, and the economy. I blogged before about the importance of the economy in making Presidential election forecasts (“It’s the economy stupid“).

Do you think traditional ways to forecast the election will “work” this year?



10 responses to “13 reasons why Hillary Clinton will (probably) win the Presidential Election

  • Andreas H Thorsen

    Interesting. However, there seems to be some uncertainty in the model parameters.

    “Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.” -True, but, to me at least, it is very unclear how many people will vote for Sanders anyway.

    “Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.” -I think it depends who you ask. Benghazi and e-mails come to mind.

    “Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.” -I am surprised this is assumed false. BLM seems like sustained social unrest. However, I am not sure which side it helps. This is a problem I have with the model.

    Considering that uncertainty, I’d interpret the model as predicting a wide open race. Just my two cents.


  • Laura Albert McLay

    Good points, but I don’t agree that there is model uncertainty. In terms of scandal and social unrest, the full description of the model indicates that Benghazi and BLM are not even close to being serious enough to be counted as “major.” Nixon getting impeached is something that would count as a scandal.

  • Barry Render

    Excellent blog! One might question numbers 8 and 10, however. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of social unrest–more than I can recall since the assassinations and the race riots of the 60s. And I am not sure our foreign policies/military affairs have gone so well in the Middle East. It looks like a toss up in the T/F method then, and Gary Johnson could well surprise everyone for another false on #4. Interesting times!

  • Laura Albert McLay

    Hi Barry, our military affairs in the Middle East haven’t gone well but I would have a hard time classifying them as “major failures.” Likewise for the social unrest.

    See more here

  • prubin73

    I’d like to believe in your prediction (not a fan of Sec Clinton, but at this point I’d take Wile E. Coyote over The Donald). Unfortunately, I can see a couple of reasons not to trust the forecast.

    First, while (as noted in other comments) we could question some of your TRUEs and FALSEs on factual (or somewhat factual) grounds, the bigger problem to me is that a nontrivial portion of the electorate, on both sides, is ignoring facts. Thus, for one example, a chunk of the populace seems to think we are in a recession (though perhaps not calling it that), even though we are not. Even more bizarrely, a nontrivial chunk seems to think we are no longer a world power. (Even the Vladinator recently called us the world’s only superpower. I’m surprised he didn’t need to be Heimlich-ed to finish the sentence.)

    Second, and perhaps more crucially, the model was “trained” using past election data, with the understandable assumption it would be representative of future elections. I think the last election representative of this one might have occurred in Venezuela. Given a (hopefully temporary) seismic shift in the system, past performance is, to quote the boilerplate on financial instruments, not indicative of, well, anything.

  • Sanjay Saigal

    The Iran Nuclear Deal is considered a major success by non-partisans in international diplomacy.

    I agree strongly with Andreas’s point about social unrest and disagree mildly with his point about Benghazi/email, which – thanks to FNC’s creativity (who says American manufacturing is dead?!) – are tied to Secy. Clinton, not the Obama Administration per se.

    Either way, the model results are so sensitive to such judgments that the objective/conservative stance is to confess that it isn’t terribly predictive.

  • jfpuget

    Interesting as always. I am in disagreement though with your assessment of question 10. The rise of ISIS is a major failure. The fact that Russia could grab Crimea without much problem is also a major failure. Sure, consequences are felt more in the old world than in the USA, but they are real.

  • More than one way to play presidential pick ’em – UWMadScience

    […] McLay wrote recently on her blog, Punk Rock Operations Research, about “The Keys to the White House,” a book by Allan Lichtman […]

  • Flood De

    Allan Lichtman has created an amazing model for prediction with the 13 keys! However, it appears his emotions may be overriding the very logic he used to create this system.

    All of the 13 keys have already been set. Yet Allan has not yet made a prediction.

    1. FALSE
    2. FALSE (Clinton only received 55.2% of the first ballot. Per Allan the candidate must secure 60% or more to turn key 2)
    3. FALSE
    4. TRUE
    5. TRUE
    6. TRUE
    7. FALSE (per Allan all keys are evaluated on the current Presidency term – not the entire term of incumbent party)
    8. TRUE
    9. TRUE
    10. TRUE
    11. FALSE
    12. FALSE
    13. ?

    Regardless of whether key 13 is true or false (per the criteria of the method the Challenger’s charisma must match or exceed that of JFK or Reagan – that is clearly FALSE, however, I suspect that the criteria simply needs a better description i.e. “does the Challenger posses a strong degree of influence” in that case I would say that it’s a resounding TRUE), six keys are already turned to FALSE meaning that the incumbent party will lose.

    Since six keys have already been turned to FALSE then why hasn’t Allan made a prediction yet?

    I believe it’s because the result upsets him on an emotional level. He clearly showed that the possibility of Trump being president greatly agitated him in a recent interview. When people act on their emotion and stray from their formula it usually doesn’t work out the way they want. Ask any stock broker who has strayed from their fundamentals and traded on an emotion – they will tell you it did not work out well.

  • Laura Albert McLay

    Allan Lichtman notes that Gary Johnson is polling at more than 5%, which has turned the final key against Hillary. He is calling for a Trump victory. We shall see tomorrow night: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/28/professor-whos-predicted-30-years-of-presidential-elections-correctly-is-doubling-down-on-a-trump-win/

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