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Historian’s Prediction: Donald J. Trump to Win 2016 Election

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Allan J. Lichtman
American University

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with a correction. It has been corrected to read that Prof. Lichtman’s 13 Keys system predicts the winner of the presidential race, not the outcome of the popular vote.

With the presidential election just weeks away, Donald J. Trump is predicted to win, according to American University Professor Allan Lichtman. Lichtman’s “13 Keys” system predicts the winner based on the performance of the party and not the use of candidate preference polls, campaign strategies, or events.

“The Keys point to a Donald Trump victory, and in general, point to a generic Republican victory. Still, I believe that given the unprecedented nature of the Trump candidacy and Trump himself, Trump could defy all odds and lose even though the verdict of history is in his favor,” Lichtman said.

The “13 Keys,” featured in Allan Lichtman’s renowned book Keys to the White House, have been highlighted in dozens of articles throughout the world and are a resource for aspiring politicians. They are based on a scientific model of “13 Keys,” or conditions that favor reelection of the incumbent party candidate. When five or fewer are false, the incumbent party candidate wins. When six or more are false, the other party candidate wins.

According to Lichtman, the Democrats are down six keys. Two keys at stake that could turn the prediction back toward the incumbent party: the third party key and the foreign policy success key.

“Over the next seven weeks, the keys could change,” Lichtman said. “As people realize the choice is not third-party candidate Gary Johnson, but the contest narrows further between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton, those Johnson supporters may move toward Clinton. The foreign policy key could change, for example, if President Obama were to announce that ISIS is out of Iraq.”

The system predicted President Obama’s re-election in 2012, as early as 2010. In 2005, with the presidential election nearly three years out and neither party with a chosen nominee, Lichtman declared that the Democrats would retake the White House no matter which candidate—Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John Edwards—captured the Democratic nomination.

The system also predicted George W. Bush's 2004 reelection as early as April 2003, Al Gore’s popular vote victory in 2000, Bill Clinton’s win in 1996, George Bush’s defeat in 1992, the outcome of the 1988 presidential election when Michael Dukakis was well ahead in the polls and the 1984 outcome.

Outlining the Keys for the 2016 Election:

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

“The Keys show that elections are not horse races in which candidates surge ahead or fall behind on the campaign trail, with pollsters keeping score,” says Lichtman. “Rather, a pragmatic American electorate chooses a president according to the performance of the party holding the White House as measured by the consequential events and episodes of a term — economic boom and bust, foreign policy successes and failures, social unrest, scandal, and policy innovation.

“Donald Trump has made this the most difficult election I’ve had to assess since 1984. We’ve never before seen a candidate like Donald Trump, which suggests this election could go either way. Nobody should be complacent. No matter who you’re for, you’ve got to get out and vote. History shows that nations decline because of the apathy, not the actions, of good people.”