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After the start of COVID-19, what does Lichtman's keys model currently predict?

Politics Asked on December 17, 2021

I am wondering about the Lichtman’s keys model. I wonder what his model is saying now about the 2020 election. How many keys are in Trump’s favor, and how many are against?

Note to self: if the model says 5 or fewer keys are false, the incumbent party is predicted to win the popular vote. If 6 or more are false, they are predicted to lose.

2 Answers

Part of the issue with Lichtman's keys as a model is that certain keys are quite subjective. This was touched on by Nate Silver of 538 quite well here:

This is most obvious in the case of the final two variables, which have to do with the charisma of the incumbent candidate and an opponent. I’m not of the view that there’s no such thing as “candidate quality,” or that charisma doesn’t matter. But it’s awfully easy to describe someone as charismatic when he or she is ahead in the polls — or when you have the advantage of hindsight and know who won an election.

As a result, in order to get the "official" prediction of the model, one often has to wait until Lichtman releases his election prediction himself. This happened for the 2020 cycle on August 5th, as reported in video form here by the NYTimes.

If you don't fancy watching the whole thing, the keys according to Lichtman are as follows:

  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
  2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination. TRUE
  3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president. TRUE
  4. Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign. TRUE
  5. Short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. FALSE
  6. Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. FALSE
  7. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. TRUE
  8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term. FALSE
  9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. FALSE
  10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. TRUE
  11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. FALSE
  12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. FALSE
  13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. TRUE

As seven keys are false, Lichtman's model predicts that the challenger (Biden) will win the popular vote.

Answered by CDJB on December 17, 2021

You can try it yourself here, and some of it is subjective (at least according to this summary form).

There's also one evaluation of the keys at this link, updated mid-July. As of 2020-07-23, they have three keys definitively in the Republicans' favor (True) and two definitively in the Democrats' (False), with two more likely to be True and four more likely to be False, predicting a Democrat win.


In my own evaluation, based on the first link, I had a few less unknowns and evaluated some differently.

  1. Party Mandate After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. False
  2. Contest There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. True
  3. Incumbency The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. True
  4. Third party There is no significant third party or independent campaign. True
  5. Short-term economy The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. False
  6. Long-term economy Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. ???
  7. Policy change The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. True
  8. Social unrest There is no sustained social unrest during the term. False
  9. Scandal The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. False
  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. False
  13. Challenger charisma The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. True

I didn't look up the long term economy, but I suspect that's a false right now. The short term is definitely a false now, although there's no way to know what it will be on election day.

I consider #7 to be True (Trump has made some significant policy changes), but Soapboxie thinks False.

I don't know how a "major victory" or "major failure" in foreign affairs is classified, so I didn't answer those either. Off the cuff, I'd say "no great failures or successes" (So one true, one false), which agrees with the Soapboxie link.

I also rated #12 as false and #13 as true, as did Soapboxie, but charisma is subjective. So you could debate those.

By my count, that's 5 "True", 5 "False", and three "I don't know". Since at least five are false, it's currently right on the border line and if any of the other three are false then it's predicting an incumbent loss. (Assuming you agree about #12 and #13)

Answered by Bobson on December 17, 2021

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