Predicting the United States Presidential Election using the ‘13 keys’ system.

Image credit: The Indian Express

I recently came across a video from the New York Times, talking to a man named Allan Lichtman. For some, that name may ring a bell — he’s the man who, despite being ridiculed for it, predicted a Trump win in 2016 using a method he devised. He’s also got a perfect track-record at predicting who will win the Presidency.

For those who don’t know, the 13 keys system is the method that Lichtman devised for predicting the Presidency. Through analysis of U.S. elections going back to the mid-1800s, Lichtman identified thirteen major points for winning the Presidency. These are:

  • The incumbent party getting Midterm Election gains

All of these have an answer of ‘true’ or ‘false’. For every ‘true’ answer, a point goes to the incumbent/representative of the incumbent party. For every ‘false’ answer, a point goes to the opponent. After all thirteen keys have been identified as ‘true’ or ‘false’, the candidate with the most points is the one predicted to win the Presidency.

As said before, this system has been correct every single time Lichtman has used it to predict elections, going back to the 1980s. In the New York Times video that I first heard of this method (linked below), Lichtman used it to predict that Joe Biden will win the Presidency in 2020. However, I disagreed with some of his ‘true’ or ‘false’ verdicts. So, here’s my analysis of who will win the 2020 election, should the system (and my verdicts) be correct. Before you read them, you may want to watch the NYT video:

Key 1 — Midterm election gains for the incumbent — false.

This is a rather simple one — the GOP (Republicans) lost the House of Representatives in the 2018 Midterms, so the key is false and a point goes to Biden.

Key 2 — No major primary contest for the incumbent party — true.

Trump hasn’t had any major primary contenders, so this key is true and a point goes to him.

Key 3 — The incumbent is seeking re-election — true.

Trump is seeking re-election, therefore this point is true and he gains another point.

Key 4 — No major third party — true.

Despite Kayne West’s ‘bid’ for President, it’s evident that this is a two-horse race. The key is true and another point goes to Trump.

Key 5 — Strong short-term economy — false.

The Coronavirus has wiped out the U.S. economy. Despite the fact that it’s not all Trump’s fault, the key is still false and the point goes to Biden.

Key 6 — A long-term economy which is as strong or stronger than the last two terms — false.

Trump has his economy as a major point of pride, and it’s arguable that it has, excluding 2020, done better than it did across Obama’s two terms. However, the Coronavirus pandemic has again changed this, making the key false and giving another point to Biden.

Key 7 — Major policy change — true.

There have been quite a few major policy changes during Trump’s office, meaning the key is true and a point goes to him.

Key 8 — No social unrest — false.

It’s evident that social unrest has been present in the U.S. in the last four years, especially with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ riots and protests. A point for Biden.

Key 9 — No scandal — false.

There have, of course, been scandals during Trump’s Presidency, not least his impeachment. This key is false, meaning a point to Biden.

Key 10 — No major foreign/military failure — true.

There haven’t been any major foreign or military failures in the last four years, so the key is true and a point goes to Trump.

Key 11 — Major foreign/military success — false.

This is false — you could say that the breakthroughs with North Korea were successes, but in the last year nothing has really come to fruition. Therefore this gives a point to Biden.

Key 12 — A charismatic incumbent — true*.

Donald Trump does have a fairly large supporter base, who are in awe with him. He’d have to do something really awful to lose his supporters, so this key is true and a point goes to Trump.

Key 13 — An uncharismatic opponent — true.

Joe Biden certainly has support, but there aren’t many who have very strong positive feelings about him and his leadership. Therefore this point is true and Trump gets another point.

So — there are all the keys and my verdicts on them. If we tally up the points, it looks like this:

TRUMP: 🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴🔴 | BIDEN: 🔵🔵🔵🔵🔵

According to my verdicts, Trump will win. You may have noticed that I starred key 12 — this is because this is the key that myself and Lichtman disagree on. Lichtman doesn’t believe Trump is charismatic, whilst from what I’ve heard and seen I believe he is. Obviously, this points out a flaw with the key system — people disagree on some verdicts.

If the system is correct; according to my verdicts, Trump will win, and according to Allan Lichtman’s verdicts, Biden will win. It is worth noting that Lichtman has got a perfect track record of getting the result correct, however I had to disagree with him on key 12. We also shouldn’t wholly ignore polling in favour of this method (despite its scary accuracy).

This U.S. Election will be one of the most unpredictable in modern times. The country goes to the polls on the 3rd November.

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