It’s funny how annoyed data nerds are today at having to endure another round of Allan Lichtman being touted as the “Nostradamus” of forecasters. They spend months building sophisticated electoral models, crunching poll numbers, running many thousands of simulations to determine probabilities of victory and defeat.
And then this dude waltzes into the room every four years or so with 13 “keys” and calls it right every time.
He Incorrectly Predicted That Trump Would Win The Popular Vote In 2016. But, Hey, Who Cares About Details Like That? https://t.co/FkWyWFcfAc
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) August 5, 2020
Allan Lichtman intentionally used the wrong variables in 2016 in order to get his model to predict a Trump win, but sure you could call him "the Nostradamus of elections" if you want to
— G. Elliott Morris (@gelliottmorris) August 5, 2020
The keys thing is always a bit dumb, but here Biden is favored by the margin of Licthman's subjective conclusion that Donald Trump–reality TV star with devoted following–is not charismatic https://t.co/DWqU5nNPVw
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) August 5, 2020
Lichtman predicted an Al Gore victory in 2000 and claims to have been vindicated by the fact that Gore did, after all, win the popular vote. He predicted a Trump victory in 2016 and claims to have been vindicated by the fact that Trump did, after all, win the electoral college. Hmmmm.
As you’ll see below, some of his “keys” are objective, such as whether the incumbent president is on the ballot. But others are subjective. Lichtman credits Trump with having achieved “major policy changes,” but that’s sort of true and sort of false. He did pass a tax cut. He did start a trade war with China. He did withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear deal. He did reach out to North Korea and begin some withdrawals of U.S. troops stationed abroad. But he failed to undo ObamaCare. His North Korea diplomacy’s gone nowhere. His withdrawals of U.S. troops have been minor. No doubt there are many Trump fans who expected more sweeping changes during his presidency than the country’s experienced.
Doesn’t every president make some changes to policy that can plausibly be described as “major”? If so, why is that even a “key”?
Having a criterion as subjective as that one is important, since “winning” on seven of the 13 keys means that a candidate is favored to win in November. If you get to a six-six tie on the other 12 keys described in the clip below, you can define “major policy changes” as broadly or as narrowly as you like to justify a prediction that the incumbent will win or lose, as you deem more likely.
Relatedly, and as Cohn points out, Lichtman somehow comes to the conclusion that Donald Trump isn’t charismatic because, although he’s a professional entertainer who’s built one of the most ferocious cults of personality of any president in American history, he doesn’t have much pull with swing voters. Does Lichtman really believe that? Or did he look at the last two months of national polling, notice that Biden’s doing better than Hillary did at her peak, assume that an incumbent presiding over a nightmare pandemic and economic collapse is unlikely to be reelected, and reason backward from that to find a way to award Biden seven of the 13 keys — even if it mean declaring Trump uncharismatic? Even Never Trumpers would credit the president with charisma.
Anyway. If you prefer something more scientific, RCP has new evidence that, bit by bit, Trump continues to gain on Biden in national polling. A few days ago he trailed by 7.4 points. He’s within seven today.
Still a ways to go before he’s back in serious contention, but the 42.4 percent he’s notched against Biden today represents his best average since June 7, when his long COVID- and protest-related summer slide began. He’s not beat yet. Anyway, here’s Lichtman: