August 16, 2004


Why the Odds Don't Favor John Kerry (Allan Lichtman and Vladimir Keilis-Borok, 8-09-04, HNN)

John Kerry can hope to shorten the long odds he faces against President Bush only with a bold, imaginative approach to winning the election.

This challenging conclusion for Kerry comes from the Keys to the White House, a prediction system we developed in 1981 by applying the mathematics of pattern recognition to the outcomes of every presidential election since 1860. We subsequently used the Keys to predict correctly, well ahead of time, the popular vote results of presidential elections from 1984 to 2000.

The theory behind the keys is that presidential elections are primarily referenda on the performance of the party holding the White House, as voters respond not to daily spin control but to the consequential events of a presidential term.

The keys are thirteen diagnostic questions, phrased as propositions that favor reelection of the incumbent party. When five or fewer are false, the party in power wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

President Bush now has four keys turned against him, two short of the fatal six negative keys. The following nine keys currently favor Bush.

# By gaining seats in the U.S. House elections of 2002, Republicans locked in the party mandate key.

# The lack of a nomination contest gives Bush the incumbent party contest key.

# Bush’s nomination locks up the incumbent president key.

# The absence of a third-party challenger with prospects of winning 5 percent of the vote secures the third-party key.

# The recovering economy gains the short-term economy key.

# The absence of sustained, violent upheavals avoids loss of the social unrest key.

# The president’s response to the September 11 attack including the expulsion of the Taliban from Afghanistan and the capture of Saddam Hussein secures the foreign/military success key.

# The lack of a major scandal implicating the president averts loss of the scandal key.

# Kerry is no John F. Kennedy, keeping Republicans from losing the challenger charisma key.

The following four keys fall against Bush.

# The weak economy during the full Bush term forfeits the long-term economy key.

# The administration’s relatively modest domestic accomplishments topple the policy-change key.

# The most devastating foreign attack on the United States in history costs Bush the foreign/military failure key.

# Bush lacks the charisma of a Ronald Reagan, losing the incumbent charisma key.

They would appear to have based their judgments of how the keys are turned entirely on their personal feelings--Mr. Bush, for instance, consistently polls in the 60's on "personal likability," which would seem to suggest he's rather charismatic by an objective standard. The "modest domestic accomplishments" is hilarious for someone who passed NCLB, school vouchers for D.C., three major tax cuts, abortion limits, prescription coverage for Seniors, HSA's, etc., and unilaterally enacted the Faith-Based Initiative, and a variety of other measures. In fact, political scientists rate him as having one of the most productive legislative records of any president in recent times (Capitalizing on Position in the George W. Bush Presidency: Partisan Patterns and Congress in a 50-50 Government Charles O. Jones, University of Wisconsin)--better than Reagan or Clinton, behind only Nixon.

At any rate, even if you turn these two keys against him he's still in awfully good shape.

Shirtsleeves Style Is a Strong Suit for Bush (John F. Harris, August 16, 2004, Washington Post)

President Bush has formidable obstacles to reelection, but he served a reminder last week that he is a politician with formidable strengths.

Anyone who doubts it should spend some time watching the shirtsleeves campaign. In five days of energetic campaigning through five swing states, Bush looked and sounded like someone dropping by a neighbor's lawn party -- no coat, no tie, rolled-up sleeves, and conversational speeches in which he implored voters to "put a man in there who can get the job done."

In loosening his style, Bush tightened his message. Fielding friendly questions at "Ask President Bush" forums, or lathering up the crowds at pep rallies like the one here on Saturday afternoon, he presented his case for reelection with a force and fluency that sometimes eluded him at important moments over the past year.

The message Bush offered at these events has been familiar for months: that he is a plain-spoken conservative who knows his mind and is resolute in crisis, and that his Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry, is the opposite on each count. But crafting an argument and finding the words and cadences to deliver it effectively can be different things.

Two weeks before the Republican National Convention, Bush's performances in recent days suggested someone who has settled on a comfortable marriage of message and style. A mix of applause lines, anecdotes, and wisecracks at Kerry's expense roll off at a steady clip. There was a buoyant, jaunty manner that announced a politician who is relishing his fight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2004 8:58 AM

"relishing his fight"
This is good news. I remember reading pre and post-1992 election notes that Bush Sr was not really into the election and that he was tired and lacked "fire in his belly". It looks like W doesn't have this problem.

Posted by: AWW at August 16, 2004 9:14 AM


Did you see him on Larry King? Looked like a hunting dog straining at the leash.

Posted by: oj at August 16, 2004 9:22 AM

The classic self-deprecating Bush part was when King was asking about Chalabi and mispronounced his name. Bush used the correct pronunciation and King said, "You pronounce that better than I do." Bush replied, "That's probably the only word I pronounce better."

Posted by: The Other Brother at August 16, 2004 10:21 AM

Going by his only other re-election campaign, in 1998 for Tezas governor, I'd say that the current close polls are actually a plus for Bush (though obviously not as big a one as a 20-point lead would be) because it makes him focus more on campaign prep. That was not a stong suit six years ago running against Clinton bud Garry Mauro in Texas. Bush's campaign style was unfocused on message compared with his 1994 run against Ann Richards, and his debate effort that fall as abysmal.

That didn't matter, since there was no Bush Derangement Syndrome in Texas (outside of Typhoid Molly Ivins, who managed to infect most of the Democratic Party two years later) and he was going to win based on his four-year record anyway. But a narrow race for GWB is probably better as far as focus goesthan one where he hangs at an 8-10 point margin during the late summer and fall, and doesn't focus on Kerry enough going into the October debates.

Posted by: John at August 16, 2004 12:25 PM

Lichtman is a schlub and a flack. He was foursquare behind Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and is foursquare behind JFK.

Posted by: jsmith at August 16, 2004 11:57 PM