Why the Odds Don't Favor John Kerry
Allan Lichtman is a professor of history at American University. Vladimir Keilis-Borok is a world-renowned authority on prediction methodology, and a Professor in Residence at UCLA.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.
The following four keys fall against Bush.
Keys could change before November. The economy could tumble into a double-dip recession, one of several potential scandals could afflict the president, and events in Iraq and Afghanistan could negate his successes abroad. Kerry could lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College tally, which Bush accomplished in 2000, a first for a president since 1888.
Although Kerry cannot depend on such unlikely turns of fortune, he can help himself by trying to scramble the historical odds.
Nothing changes from one election to the next in America, because the media, the candidates, the pollsters, and the consultants are codependent in the false idea that elections are exercises in manipulating voters, and in giving us negative campaigns, bland and scripted lines. Kerry has a chance to break this cycle by firing the hucksters, tearing up their scripts, and speaking forthrightly and concretely about what Americans should be accomplishing during the next four years.
Kerry, who loves policy challenges, should lead a debate on critical neglected issues. He could, for example, respond to the worldwide scientific consensus on the perils of global warming by exploring how we can shift away from fossil fuels toward clean, renewable energy. He could even explain how fossil fuel dependence warps our foreign policies and our war against terrorism. Imagine such a discussion in a presidential campaign.
Why not break precedent and set up a shadow government, with a suggested CIA Director and Secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, and Interior. Tell us how this shadow administration would govern differently from the Bush administration. Submit an alternative budget and drafts of international agreements and major legislation; let the shadow officials campaign for Kerry and his policies.
Kerry has a choice between following the usual meaningless routine in the hope that setbacks to the administration and the country will elect him in November or take a chance on running a new kind of daring, innovative, and programmatic campaign. With the right choice, Kerry can achieve an historical breakthrough that would establish the basis for a principled choice of our national leader and a grassroots mobilization on issues that matter to America’s future.
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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
I will not discuss the military service records of Bush versus Kerry because I don't think they are key to the election outcome. That outcome, and the relative chances of the two main candidates, incidentally (and not the personal histories and pet peeves of each poster) is the subject under discussion in this thread.
As for the U.S. Constitution, my copy (12th Amendment) says that, in case there is no majority for any presidential candidate in the electoral college, "the House of Representative shall choose, immediately, by ballot, the President". The House, not the Supreme Court. As in 1824, for instance.
I don't know to whom Mr. Livingston is referring when he talks irrelevantly about "those who don't like our Constitution". In any case, my point did not address whether Bush was constitutionally elected, but whether the historically unusually close outcome in 2000 and the even more unusual way in which that unusual situation was handled, has affected the degree to which Bush enjoys the usual incumbent advantage in the 2004 race. Given that he does not behave like a real president, in many voters’ minds, his having been chosen by the Supreme Court rather than through a more normal electoral process, does, I believe, cut into his incumbency advantage.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
The people most agitated about Bush's hypocrisy on war, decided not to vote for him long, long ago. Voters particularly impressed by Kerry's Vietnam service are probably mostly also thankful to Bush for having "stood up to terrorism". Absent some great public gaffe or misstep by either candidate, it is probably going to come down to Bush's fairly poor track record on the job, only partially excused by 9-11, versus Kerry's tendencies towards waffling and aloofness, partially overcome by a rather more energetic, sensible and positive set of policy positions. What the two of them did and did not do 40 years ago is not totally irrelevant, but it is doubtful that it will be decisive, even in a close race.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
I agree with Ben Severance above that Rove, et.al. have few compulsions about throwing mud. But, there is another reason for the harping on Kerry's "flip flops". He did not just flip flop on Iraq, he has been an outright hypocrite. Not in the same league with Bush and Cheney, I would suggest, but appalling enough for it to rankle with many voters. Had Kerry been truly "wrestling" with the issue of giving Bush an unwarranted and unprecedented blank check in October, 2002, he would surely have realized (as, for example, Byrd and his own fellow Massachusetts senator Kennedy did) that that horror was precisely the sort of surrender of Congressional war powers that he, Kerry, justifiably criticized Congress for committing in the 1960s and '70s re Vietnam. Had Kerry been "wrestling" with the Iraq debacle since Oct '02, rather than backpedaling to cover his tracks, he should have had the basic integrity to apologize to the country for helping make possible Bush's very predictable (and widely predicted) colossal blundering in Iraq. Instead Kerry wants a chance to now clean up the mess he helped make. Fair enough, but he cannot duck the waffle issue. He can only point to Bush's (in my judgement, more egregious) waffles, which to semi-savvy John Q Voter basically produces a wash. For the on-the-fence electorate, the choice then comes down to things such as the personal demeanor of the two men, and to the plausibility of Kerry's promises versus the proven track record of Bush’s failures.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
The "keys" presented here boil down to little more than the very familiar incumbent advantage and "the economy, stupid".
I don't buy the assumption that because Bush is the incumbent he automatically reaps full incumbent advantages. He was not properly elected in the first place, so his legitimacy as incumbent depends on his record in office, and that, in turn, is made somewhat dubious (quite apart from his many obvious factual failures) by his juvenile demeanor. Kerry, for all his faults, looks and acts more "presidential".
The reality that the electoral college is decisive when the popular vote is close renders dubious a model based on predicting the popular vote. This also makes it unlikely that, in a close race, the challenger would follow starry-eyed advice to run a new and different "daring, innovative, and programmatic campaign" to achieve "an historical breakthrough" with "grassroots mobilization" and a chicken in every pot. If he wants to win, what is “key” is the undecided or marginal vote in the swing states. But Kerry would be disinclined to follow a “daring and innovative” path in any case -it is not in his nature- unless, such an approach turns out to be THE best way to win THOSE borderline voters (an aspect which the above authors ignore).
The primary elections 6 months ago seem to have been forgotten here: if the Democrat voters had wanted "daring and innovative" they would have gone for Dean or Clark or maybe even Kucinich. Instead they wanted someone who seemed to have good chances for winning in the Fall, and that someone, having been chosen and anointed, is not likely now to pay much heed to trivial formulaic “keys”, whether or not they are glossed-up by ahistorical 20 year-old "mathematical pattern prediction", or strategies tangenting off them.
Ultimately, this article amounts to little more than a “too close to call” prediction, leading to a hope that the challenger will act a bit bolder in order get off the dime. Personally, I think the “key” will be the debates. No matter how badly the moderators muck it up, the focus will be on Bush’s record vs Kerry’s program -where there are bound to be at least one or two noticeable contrasts- and if either candidate blunders on national TV that alone could be a tipping point.
I am all for candidates who can “speaking forthrightly and concretely” about “critical neglected issues”. There is little indication that sort of campaign happening in the 2004 presidential race. How about a column on the Congress (and why it is not happening there either) instead ? But spare us the trivial watered-down regression modelling and the idealistic platitudes, please.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
I basically agree with your useful comments, Dr. Dresner.
Dean had momentum on his side, early on. Had he been more "daring and innovative", not less, and joined forces with Clark (my idea at the time was: go into a room together right after Iowa (e.g. instead of screaming primaly), flip a coin - one gets P, the other VP) they might have prevailed over the "party apparatus and structure". A questionable line-up for the electoral college in the general campaign, however.
Forthright is not the same as going negative, and the conflation is silly, born probably of lack of familiarity with forthrightness, but I am forthrightly out of time.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Mr. Heuisler, in his new reappearance, is more polite than before, but is still mostly off-base. This thread has nothing to do with the “shadow cabinet” question (I basically agree with Heuisler on that point, by the way). A P-VP team-up announced while the primaries were still on has precedence (Reagan '76) and would have represented a tactical triumph of innovation over “apparatus and structure” this year, whatever its viability later on. A more pertinent parallel, though, is Reagan's 1980 question: "Are you better off now than four years ago ?" If Bush can duck that question, or successfully convince "key" subsets of the electorate that he has had a "series of successes in office", he may win. The "rationality" of Kerry's “alternative” will be decisive only if Bush manages to sell himself as having improved the quality and security of swing-state voters' lives.
Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007
Whatever his real reasons, they have obviously been too embarrassing to confess. He and Bush both are promising to do better without conceding their past errors. Kerry has made fewer errors, I would suggest. Whether "the odds" are therefore in his favor (i.e. the opposite of what the rather ahistorical article suggests) remains to be seen.
Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005
Perry White is correct to say "westeners by the hundreds of thousands..." because we believed Ronnie had it in the bag.
In addition to his perceived weakness in facing Islamic radicals & the Soviet Union Carter presided over an economy that was suffering (1) 20% inflation & (2) a 21% Prime rate. And his brother's Billy Beer didn't exactly endear him to the suburban NPR crowd.
Reagan's biggest asset was his optimism (& of course his ability to clearly express that optimism) at a time many people were, with good reason, feeling worried about the nation under Carter's weak leadership.
To the claim by Mr. Clarke that Bush wasn't properly elected...NONSENSE! Yes, yes, coastal city/state urbanites don't like the Electoral College and would prefer the President be elected by populsr vote in order to create a dictatorship commanded by the folks who find themselves prisoners of our large cities. BUT that isn't the way our Constitution reads. Therefore, those who don't like our Constitution have the choices of (1) garnering even votes to amend the Constitution, (2) leave the country, or (3) continue to wallow whining in self-pity in their losers' cess pit.
Like it or not, the people of the U.S. of A. have in recent decades swung to a more conservative point-of-view, rejecting the anti-patrioticism & hedonism that became the fad among some elements of society in the 60s.
Kerry's biggest problem is his lack of integrity...as is being brought to the public's attention by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth.
It perhaps is a significant symbol for Kerry's defeat at the polls to come that one such as I, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Liberia Group One, 1962-4, & yet a strong fan of John Kennedy & a Catholic (Indeed, I went Mass this Tuesday morning. That is to say, I strongly disagree with Kerry's pro-abortion & pro-euthanasia positions as well as, as a Westener, his position on gun control. And of course, as a Viet-Nam veteran who was seriously WIA I have nothing but contempt for Kerry's undeserved, one of which was seemingly self-inflicted Purple Hearts) am resolved to vote against Kerry. I.e., for Bush.
To read about Kerry's self-inflicted Purple Heart see
David a. Cousins - 8/18/2004
WHAT PLANET ARE YOU LIVING ON?
David a. Cousins - 8/18/2004
It would seem that the major policy change key is actually secured by Bush. It is called "homeland Security". If Reagan got the key through the Reagan Revolution, LBJ through the Great Society, Medicare and Medicaid, FDR with the New Deal, Social Security and restucturing the government to deal with WW II, Wilson to deal with WW I, Teddy Roosevelt with the Square Deal, then Bush too with Homeland Security. The federal government has been overhauled to deal internally with an external threat. Similar to Lincoln (Civil War), Wilson (WW I), FDR (WW II) and now Bush. Put another way, there is a new phrase in our lexicon that didn't exist on the eve of the previous election that everyone can point to and would be familiar with. If restructuring the entire federal government (patriot act, airport security, potential military tribunals,terror alerts and color codes, etc.) under the umbrella of Homeland Security doesn't constitute a redirecting of national policy then what does?
Bill Heuisler - 8/14/2004
The bet's on. I'll be seeing you here in Tucson sometime in November. I'm deciding which steakhouse is sufficient to my overdeveloped appetite.
As to the Silver Star, Kerry received it after beaching his boat, chasing a wounded VC behind a hooch and shooting him. There are conflicting accounts of the action by officers and seaman from other boats nearby during the incident. Again, Kerry could settle the whole thing by releasing his medical and after-action records.
Andrew Hughes - 8/13/2004
I recently posted a note on Kerry's assertion that he "would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." (http://tinyurl.com/6c6pn)
I too found Kerry's vote, given his antiwar record and what he knows about Tonkin and all that, puzzling to say the least.
Knowing full well that he would be running for President in the not-far-distant future and knowing full well that a "No" vote might cost him dearly, he may have cast the vote in an act of pure cynicism. But in this same light, another possibility exists, which may either stand with or supplant the first--that he was looking to the future of his own presidential authority. At this point, he would hardly have been worrying about or defending the prerogatives of the Senate.
Ben H. Severance - 8/13/2004
So, even the silver star is now under scrutiny? We're going to have to do lunch if we ever want to sort this out. Perhaps we can do it when you buy me that steak. You do remember my prediction of a Kerry victory and your steak offer? Or maybe that was Richard Henry Morgan. And it might have been on Rebunk as opposed to HNN. Anyway, I've been blogging too much these days.
Ben H. Severance - 8/13/2004
Points taken. I guess my choice of words (i.e, "wrestling") is more a case of delusional damage control. I'm still voting for Kerry, but I am disappointed by his failure to stand up to the president back in fall 2002 (much as I am terribly disappointed in Daschle's lack of decisive leadership). Kerry's awkward responses to why he voted for the resolution yet opposes the war make for some painful listening.
Bill Heuisler - 8/13/2004
Point taken, but let's compare the treatement of questions and the quest for information in each case.
After the anal exam W has received by people who never served and have no idea what the Air Guard does, I'm almost amused that nobody seems to want to examine the affidavits of sixty honorably discharged vets. BTW, the Swiftboat vets call into question two of the PHs, his Cambodian claims and the Silver Star. Kerry's refusal to release his records and his use of lawyers to harass the swiftboat vets makes a suspicious contrast.
I intend reading the swiftboat vets' book and comparing stories. Perhaps you will do the same. We'll do lunch and compare. But wouldn't it be much more simple if Kerry just released his records and disproved all the claims?
Ben H. Severance - 8/12/2004
I know how phony many medals and citations can be. After the Gulf War, a field grade officer ordered me to write up an ARCOM with V device for his Bradley driver. When I pointed out that I had not seen the soldier in action, the officer replied, "he was a good driver, and you are good writer, so make it sound good." I followed orders. My point is that Kerry's first PH does have the appearance of hungering after a medal, but he was wounded in that scrap, however inconsequentially. Besides, the military approved the request (it didn't have to), and let's not overlook Kerry's undeniable heroics in winning a silver star and bronze star with V device, not to mention his other two purple hearts. Care to debunk these awards as well? I read some VN sites that claim no one could win that many ribbons in only four months, but could Kerry fool the military with exaggerations and embellishments on five occasions without someone looking into his actions? No, Kerry served with valor, maybe not Audie Murphy type valor, but he was brave, nonetheless. You might want to take notice of how McCain consistently defends Kerry's war record from criticism, but then he knows how nasty the GOP can be in villifying veterans who are not blind Republicans.
In the end, as I've said, the Republicans can't stand that Kerry is an honorable veteran, while their boy Bush is warrior wannabe. But we disagree and believe what we want. I see Bush as an upper-class coward who went AWOL, while you bend over backward justifying his record in the Air National Guard and making a big deal about his unit's scheduled rotation to Vietnam. But luckily (conveniently?) for him, the war ended. So, he can always talk about what he might have done, whereas Kerry can definitely talk about what he actually did.
Bill Heuisler - 8/12/2004
Interested in arguing facts? Let's try just one.
A Navy medical officer (Leeson or Letson, don't recall) was the only doctor at the Swift boat base at the time of one of Kerry's Purple Hearts. He has signed an affidavit stating the injury was a self inflicted grenade fragment the size of a pencil tip, a half inch long sticking in Kerry's forearm. He states he removed this fragment with tweezers, swabbed with alcohol and applied a bandaid. FYI, a legal affidavit is a sworn court document that can be used as Civil/Criminal evidence - or as prima facie evidence for libel if Kerry wants to contest the claim.
Kerry's Purple Heart application said the wound was from enemy small arms fire. The fragment was from a grenade typically fired from an American grenade launcher usually unavailable to the VC. Other swift boat officers present at the scene state there was no small arms fire and that Kerry fired a grenade into the bank that sprayed his own boat with shrapnel. Most men I've served with over the years would be embarrassed to apply for a PH for such a little scratch. I've had my cheekbone partially shot away and never gotten a PH. Most PHs are awarded in hospitals, not self-generated and most minor injuries never apply. Also, an AK round does not spray half-inch shrapnel.
Dems counter this series of facts by stating the medical report was signed by a man (Callou or something) who was obviously not the witness doctor. Unfortunately for Kerry's case, the signature was followed by HM1 which means Hospitalman's Mate 1, This is SOP for a corpsman who filled out the report for the doctor and doesn't counter the Doctor's affidavit.
Care to defend Kerry's PH? Care to explain how a fraud like this - making VN ribbons a centerpiece for his campaign - doesn't assume major proportions when Kerry's being considered for Commander in Chief in wartime?
Ben H. Severance - 8/12/2004
I agree that veteran status is no indicator of presidential leadership. But it remains one of those character issues that stirs up either praise or rancor. My current interest in the issue stems from the Republican's tactic of repeating an aspersion, such as Kerry's purple hearts are bogus, until the public internalizes it as fact. Your comment about Kerry's "waffling" is another example of this phenomenon, no insult intended. Bush and company have harped on Kerry's "flip-flops" so many times that people accept this untruth as an inherent trait in Kerry. Bush sr., used the same ploy with Clinton. Why wrestling with an issue and changing one's mind is seen as weakness is beyond me. Anyway, I agree with you that the election will ultimately boil down to Bush's mediocre job performance versus Kerry's promise of a more sensible foreign policy.
Michael Green - 8/12/2004
For the authors to claim an economic recovery and foreign/military success for George W. Bush reveals not a social scientist's key, but that the wish is serving as the father of the thought. How sad.
Ben H. Severance - 8/11/2004
The current smear campaign about Kerry's integrity is a bunch of crap that Republicans hope people will believe simply through repetition. The most I've heard is that one or two of Kerry's THREE purple hearts may not have been serious wounds. I've also heard that his Bronze star is tainted because so many were given out as to dilute the award's value. But virtually no one has questioned his SILVER star.
The fact of the matter is that Republicans are terribly jealous of Kerry's war record and desperately wish Bush had something comparable. If it were possible, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove would not hesitate to sacrifice Condi Rice on an Aztec altar in order to get Bush the much coveted war record. It simply galls Republicans that the Democratic candidate is a war hero while their candidate is a frat-boy wimp.
Perry N. White - 8/9/2004
Mr. Sanfranski is right. Politics is always window-dressing, but in this case it could only lead to disaster.
Perry N. White - 8/9/2004
Peter Clarke is also off-base, if Mr. Heuisler is. Ronald Reagan did not win because of his rhetoric about "Are you better off than four years ago." As I recall, westerners by the hundreds of thousands did not go to the polls when they heard that Reagan was a shoe-in, and Reagan was a shoe-in as much because of the Iran Hostage Crisis as anything else. Jimmy Carter looked weak, and had 8 dead marines in a failed attempt to rescue the hostages weighting him down. The military was not prepared for this kind of rescue, as they are today.
Bill Heuisler - 8/9/2004
Joining forces with Clark and agreeing to a coin-flip assumes either man would accept a bucket of warm spit. Neither the General nor the Governor have the mind-set, in my opinion. The same thought points to disaster in any Kerry Shadow Cabinet. There's a personnel problem. Ask yourself who would be shadow CIA Direstor. Wilson? Clark?
Cohen? Tenet? Reich might accept shadow Secretary of State, but who would be an acceptable Security Advisor? Most Dem. big names owe allegience to Bill Clinton and would be loathe to lend their names to a Hillary rival.
Imagine Rubin as shadow Treasury Secretary, for example.
Negative campaigning is very effective and exists only in the eyes of passionate partisans. Otherwise "negative" is merely debate on issues. Who frames the issues? Are they character or policy? Usually questions of character are considered negative by recipients. Dems have questioned the President's character since his candidacy.
Is turn-about okay? In my experience, most campaigns are decided by one candidate effectively pointing out the faults in the other's policies or character. President Bush has a series of successes in office - Governor or President - and his character (intelligence?) has been at issue since his election. Senator Kerry has a largely opaque past with few apparent successes to tout. He's made character (heroism) an issue and avoided positive policy initiatives. He's a negative target by default.
President Bush can only allow history to unfold in the war on terror. About the tax cuts. About the economy. Right or wrong? With or without another 9/11 he wins because there's no rational alternative presented by Senator Kerry. (Pull out of Iraq? Rescind tax cuts? Bitch about slow recovery?) I predict the negative info about Senator Kerry's past will fill the vacuum and there will be weeping and gnashing, but what's the alternative?
mark safranski - 8/9/2004
"Why not break precedent and set up a shadow government, with a suggested CIA Director and Secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, and Interior. Tell us how this shadow administration would govern differently from the Bush administration. Submit an alternative budget and drafts of international agreements and major legislation; let the shadow officials campaign for Kerry and his policies"
Several reasons that this is a bad idea from Kerry's perspective, though perhaps a good one from the perspective of public policy:
1. This is not Britain. The voters do not expect such a shadow cabinet move move and are as likely to punish Kerry as reward him or remain indifferent. Most of the public would ignore the details, the media would have a field day starting the " gotcha" journalism that prevails during nomination-confirmation time.
2. This would sharpen the deep divisions between the Democratic regulars and DLC types and the true-believing, activist leftists which is something Kerry does not need in an election campaign.
3. Kerry's campaign is based on being, to the extent possible, the contentless generic Democratic alternative to Bush. Specific policy proposals create winners and losers within his own ranks while inciting Republicans and possibly alienating independents. Yes, Kerry has proposals but he keeps mum about them for the most part.
Jonathan Dresner - 8/9/2004
While I agree with most of your comments about the article (though I presume that their longer work contains enough detail about what the keys mean and how they award them that it means a bit more than this presentation suggests), I do want to take issue, at least a bit, with your claim that "if the Democrat voters had wanted 'daring and innovative' they would have gone for Dean or Clark or maybe even Kucinich."
First of all, well over two-thirds of the Democratic primary voters didn't have a real choice in the matter, as all but Kucinich had dropped out of the race long before they ever got to vote.
Second, the party apparatus and structure strongly favored Kerry over Dean or Clark (in spite of Clinton's promotion), and early primary states like Iowa are very strongly tied to those structures.
Finally, there's a difference between a daring campaign strategy and a daring leader: Democrats don't really care what kind of campaign is led, but Dean, Kucinich... not Presidential material. Kerry's only real competition in the area of qualifications was Gephardt, and he has real liabilities (like his record in the House, not to mention his political alliances and strategic blunders over his long career).
Unfortunately, "forthright" speech tends to be viewed as 'going negative.' Which I think is underrated, considerably.
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