History professor and well-known historian Allan Lichtman has correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1984, and recently, he predicted that Democratic nominee Joe Biden will win the race in November.
Lichtman, who has taught history courses at AU for nearly 40 years, developed his Keys to the White House theory in the 1980s with geophysicist Vladimir Keilis-Borok. Rather than using polling data, he analyzes a set of 13 true or false questions that he created to determine whether the incumbent will remain in favor with the electorate.
“Polls are misused,” Lichtman said. “They are not predictors. They are a snapshot of a given moment in time, and that snapshot can change uncontrollably and quickly.”
The “keys” address the country’s economic status, periods of social unrest, military success and scandals of the incumbent. Trump lost three keys (short-term economy, long-term economy and social unrest) within the last few months. Prior to this, Lichtman believed, but did not officially predict, that Trump would be reelected.
“Trump made the big mistake of returning to his 2016 playbook when he was the challenger and thinking he could talk his way out of the crisis,” Lichtman said. “The result was a disaster for the country and a disaster for his reelection. Never in the history of the country are we seeing fortunes of an incumbent party or incumbent president reverse so dramatically and so quickly.”
Lichtman’s theory does not evaluate the challenger in a presidential election, thus the nomination of Biden did not play a role in his prediction.
“The system is focused on the strength and performance of the office holding the White House,” Lichtman said. “Only one key has anything to do with the challenger: charisma. Biden lost that key. My prediction is not based at all on Biden, and it would not change at all if it was another Democratic candidate.”
Despite the attention, Lichtman said that he has received little backlash this time around.
“I haven’t gotten any death threats or nasty antisemitic emails that I sometimes get after my commentary,” Lichtman said. “So I was surprised that the backlash was not as great as I expected.”
Even though his predictions have been correct since 1984 (Lichtman stands by his 2000 prediction for Al Gore because he won the popular vote, although he did not win the presidency), Lichtman still fears getting it wrong.
“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, and I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I do it,” Lichtman said. “It’s not so easy to put yourself out on a limb every four years for 40 years because I know if I’m wrong, there’s going to be an avalanche of criticism.”