The Battle to Stay Perfect

Kevin Schoelzel

As the heat of summer recedes and fall advances, Americans entrench themselves with the battles of autumn. Annually, these contests come in the form of the weekly skirmishes of football and the timeless Fall Classic of baseball. However, every four years we add one more contest to our list, presidential elections.

Presidential elections have all the pageantry and grand standing of a homecoming weekend spliced together with the blood sport mentality of national politics. It is a decisive battle for America in which the two ideologies lock horns for control of the highest office in the land. Every cycle is hyped as the most crucial election in a lifetime.  However, this year it might be true, for political scientists anyway.

Enter the two challengers. In one corner, Allan Lichtman from American University, with his 13 Key; in the other corner, the duo of Kenneth Bickers and Michael Berry from the University of Colorado system. As far as presidential prediction models go, these two are the Ali and Frazier of the lot. Both have predicted, with perfect accuracy, the outcomes of the presidential election since 1984 (Bickers and Berry have been at it a little longer, also correctly forecasting the 1980 election, although Lichtman’s model retroactively was accurate for each election from 1860-1980). But this year, the political scientists find themselves at odds. Lichtman has picked the incumbent Barack Obama to hold onto the office, while the Bickers and Berry bet on Mitt Romney. Come November, which study will remain undefeated? Sports fans and political wonks alike, settle in.

But why this discrepancy?  To begin, let’s examine the methods the two studies use. Lichtman has identified 13 Key factors from a broad spectrum of political and social disciplines that he attributes to a popular vote victory.  Each of these keys comes in the form of a true or false statement. If the current president escapes with less than five false’s, he is able to hold onto the office. However, if six or more false’s should litter his scorecard, it sends the incumbent to a life of lecture tours and charity golf tournaments.  In contrast, Bickers and Berry analyze economic factors on a state-by-state level to calculate the Electoral College results.  While other studies examine fiscal trends, their study goes more in depth than competitors. Bickers and Berry paint a comprehensive picture of the local economies and then use it to build up an electoral outcome.

If betting on elections were legal ( which model would be the favorite?  Despite all the new age education money can buy, sometimes it’s about the destination more than the journey.  In the United States, the Electoral College elects the President. In 2000, Lichtman’s popular vote model was correct. It chose Al Gore. Thus, when it comes to picking winners, Bickers and Berry retain the edge, at least for now.  Since releasing their predictions, both camps have acknowledged that as the election draws near, there may be conditions that change their predictions. Bickers and Berry are slated to release an updated version of their model, with current data, at some point this month.  Until then, we will have to wait and see as these two titans of political science clash to get it right.

For Further Reading See:

On Lichtman:

On Bickers and Berry:

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