Professor Who Correctly Predicted 32 Years of Elections Gets Another Right | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Professor Who Correctly Predicted 32 Years of Elections Gets Another Right

The election was a surprise for many people -- especially the pollsters -- but one person who wasn't surprised was American University professor Allan Lichtman. He has correctly predicted who would be our next commander in chief for the last 32 years with a method he calls “the keys to the White House.” Though polling data and other expert opinion were against him, he long ago predicted who would win the 2016 election. 

Most election forecasts relied heavily on polling data, but that’s not the case for Lichtman's method.

“The method is guided by the theory that elections are primarily a referendum on the current party in the White House,” Lichtman told Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia. “The fact that the sitting president wasn't running (and) there was a lack of significant policy change in the second term. There was a lack of a significant foreign policy success in the second term. All of that made this a change election.

“I predicted that Trump would win long before the Trump sex case or the James Comey FBI letter. Trump won this election not because of his campaign but despite his campaign.”

Here are some highlights from Lichtman’s appearance on Morning Shift.

What was your reaction to Trump’s election? 

Lichtman: I was not surprised at all. Because I don't use polls. I don't follow the pundits. My system looks at the underlying structure of how elections really work and is based on historical analysis. 

What really puzzled me and actually amused me was the way the pundits twisted themselves into pretzels. First they say, “Well, this isn’t going to happen. Donald Trump is going to lose.” And then a day later, “Woops, Donald Trump is going to win, so we have to contradict everything we previously said and explain how something we said couldn’t happen actually would happen.”

So punditry is after the fact. It maybe fun to watch but it’s absolutely worthless. 

Why do you think the polls got the results so wrong? 

Lichtman: There's all kinds of problems with modern polling. One, yeah, they do try to get cell phones, but that's a really difficult thing to do. Two, it's very difficult to assess the so-called "likely voters.” You don't know who's going to vote, and this was a very unusual turnout. You had African-American turnout down (and) you had white turnout in many places exceeding expectations. 

And the pollster absolutely couldn’t figure it out. There may have been some people who were reluctant to say that they were voting for Donald Trump. You put that all together and you have a perfect storm for the pollsters. 

I have a recommendation. I’ve met pollsters. They’re great people and friends of mine. But as I said, polling produces lazy journalism. You don’t have to get out of bed to write about polls. It creates horse-race journalism. 

So send all the pollsters to a nice Pacific island for a great vacation during the next presidential election. 

Why did “the keys” model predict Donald Trump given everything that he said during the campaign? 

Lichtman: Well, ‘the keys’ don’t reflect any of that. They’re not based on the day-to-day events of the campaign. The keys are based on historical analysis of every presidential election going all the way to the election of Lincoln in 1860, and have called all subsequent elections from 1984 to 2012. 

And the way they work is by measuring the strengths and performance of the party holding the White House, based on the proposition that elections are primarily judgments on governance of the party in the White House. “Do you want to give them four more years or not?”

We don’t vote according to the speeches, the debates, the advertising, the tricks. The party doesn’t determine it, issues don’t determine it, personalities don’t determine it. But rather the voter is pragmatic and decides, “Do we want to give the party that now controls the presidency four more years? Have they performed well enough or not?” 

Click the play button above to listen to the full interview. 

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