Allan Lichtman

You may have thought presidential campaigns were complicated, mysterious affairs — each side tasked with navigating a storm of endless variables where unintended consequences (in public opinion) abound. Not so, says presidential historian and failed 2006 Maryland senate candidate Allan Lichtman. According to him, the race to the White House comes down to 13 “keys” — simple declarative sentences that, if true, would favor the re-election of the incumbent party. If five or fewer keys are false, then the popular vote goes to the incumbent party; if six or more are false, it goes to the challenging party.

The keys were developed in 1980 by Lichtman and Russian scientist Vladimir Kellis-Brook to account for every presidential election since 1860. And since then, the keys have accurately predicted the outcome of the popular vote (which in 2000 was contrary to the actual electoral vote) every time.
So despite a fomenting culture war, emotionally manipulative campaign ads, and a gaffe-obsessed media, the keys can pretty much already give us a winner. And it’s Barack Obama. Sure, he’s lost both economy keys (5 and 6), the mandate key (1), and — so Lichtman says — the incumbent charisma key (12), but outside of a major scandal, a sudden military failure, or Mitt Romney suddenly becoming dramatically more charismatic the race is his.

Maybe you believe it, maybe you don’t. But it will certainly be an interesting year to put the system to the test.

Here are the keys, via Maryland Reporter:

1. Incumbent-party mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives that it did after the previous midterm elections.
2. Nomination 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.
5. Short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
6. Long-term economy: Real annual per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the two previous terms.
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 or military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
11. Foreign or 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.