Blogs > HNN > The Keys to the White House on Election Day 2004, A Prayer for Liberals - By Karyn Strickler

Nov 2, 2004 8:16 pm

The Keys to the White House on Election Day 2004, A Prayer for Liberals - By Karyn Strickler

Karyn Strickler is a campaign expert, activist, and writer living outside Washington, DC. You can reach her at She is married to Allan Lichtman.

Anxious voters from the left-hand side of the political spectrum are contacting me constantly with questions about The Keys to the White House. The operative question is always a frantic and breathless, “OK, has anything changed with regards to The Keys?”

On this Election Day 2004, here is what I have been telling voters across America. Sorry, but nothing has changed since my husband and Professor Allan J. Lichtman first announced his prediction for this election season in writing in April 2003: The Keys to the White House still predict that George W. Bush will win the popular vote for President of the United States of America. This is not an endorsement!

Horror. Choke. Gag. Gasp, come the constant response from liberal voters.

The Keys to the White House is a system for predicting Presidential elections, based on a mathematical model for predicting earthquakes. Yes, earthquakes. History Professor, Allan J. Lichtman, developed The Keys in collaboration with a world-renowned, Russian geophysicist named Volodia Keilis-Borok.

The theory is that presidential elections are referenda on the party in power. The Keys assess the performance, strength, and unity of the party in power, in order to determine whether or not that party will continue to hold the White House. The Keys are based on the analysis of every American presidential election since 1860.

Oh, let’s face it, there are endless prediction models. One is the Redskins’ victory/defeat model. It says that, “In every presidential election since 1936, the Washington Redskins' last home game before the election has accurately predicted the winner. If they win, the incumbent president's party wins; if they lose, the challenger wins.”

It's a barometer that's held true for 17 elections in a row -- a record those pollsters can only dream of.

Sunday, October 31, the Redskins lost 28-14 to the Green Bay Packers at home,
spurring a Kerry press statement proclaiming a Kerry victory.

While most models are equally ludicrous, not so The Keys to the White House. First developed in 1981, The Keys looked backward in American history, and retrospectively, they account accurately for the results of every presidential election from 1860 through 1980.

Prospectively, The Keys predicted well ahead of time, the popular-vote winners of every presidential election from 1984 through 2000. As a nationally based system, The Keys cannot predict the results in individual states, and thus relate to the popular vote, not the Electoral College results.

The Keys are 13 diagnostic questions that are stated as propositions that favor reelection of the incumbent party. When five or fewer of these propositions are false, or turned against the party holding the White House, that party wins another term in office. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins. (Refer to “THE THIRTEEN KEYS TO THE WHITE HOUSE, at the end of the article.”)

The Keys indicate incumbent party success or failure long before the polls or any other forecasting models are of any value. The Republican Party now has four keys turned against it for 2004, two short of the fatal six negative keys.

The “But…but’s,” from liberals keep coming. They sound like this, “I think your historical level for activism/social unrest overlooks the introduction of the virtual world. Record on-line contributions, numerous blogs, along with record early voter turnout and the like may be more effective than summer of love-ins and marches on the White House in the 1960’s.”

I said, “The social unrest Key must meet an historical threshold and that is measured by sustained unrest similar to the 1960's. Unfortunately, today's social unrest is NOT EVEN CLOSE! (Hello activists! Wake Up!) Activism is not the same as social unrest. If cyber-unrest doesn't produce something that has a visible impact, it's not going to register as social unrest and certainly not on the scale necessary to turn that Key."

But…but…there have been sooooo many scandals in the Bush administration. Anxious voters say, “As for scandal/policy failure, how can Bush get away with saying, ‘We don't know if the explosives were removed before we invaded,’ as an excuse for this lost explosives thing? Shouldn't he be required to state definitively before there is any sort of release from negligence? Why does the press only repeat statements from the White House without verifying them with independent third parties? Seems like special treatment to me and creating a voice for propaganda.”

My response: The historical criterion for a major scandal is that there must be bi-partisan recognition of a scandal and it must touch the President directly, as in the case of Monica Lewinsky (pun intended) or Watergate. And in the instance of Abugrabe, for instance, Donald Rumsfeld stood between the President and the scandal. So, despite many things that we, the proud liberals would consider scandalous, nothing has yet met the historical threshold to turn the scandal Key -- believe it or not.

It's time to pray for one outcome that could appease liberals everywhere: Hit your knees and ask your manifestation of the original energy to allow George W. Bush to win the popular vote (if by a slim margin) -- as The Keys only predict the popular vote -- and for John Forbes Kerry to win the electoral college vote.

And savor the historical irony.

Or you can hope for something that shatters historical precedent, like the possibility that the extraordinary number of newly-registered voters will actually defy all precedent and show-up at the polls and vote. Or maybe the recent spate of bad news for the Bush administration will break the historical precedent of The Keys. The other hope is that, for the first time in American history, The Keys are wrong.

And, God Bless America, if John Kerry is elected President of the United States, I hope to see -- you liberals -- in the streets holding Kerry accountable to his decisions regarding environmental protection, civil rights and his positions on the war in Iraq.

Kerry has said repeatedly that he can wage a better imperial oil war. That is not within the realm of possibilities for any politician. If Kerry is elected, it is up to the American public to say, “There is no BETTER imperial oil war.”


The following nine keys currently favor the incumbent Republican Party (The verdict of the Keys in 2004 absolutely does not indicate an endorsement of George W. Bush.):

• By gaining seats in the U.S. House elections of 2002, Republicans locked in the party mandate key. (Key 1 - Party Mandate - TRUE)

• The lack of any nomination challenge to President George Bush gives the Republicans the incumbent party contest key. (Key 2- Contest – TRUE)

• Likewise, Bush’s nomination secures the incumbency key. (Key 3 - Incumbency – TRUE)

• The absence of any prospective third-party challenger with prospects of winning 5 percent of the vote or more gives Republicans the third-party key. (Key 4 - Third Party – TRUE)

• The recovering economy secures the short-term economy key, unless there is a return of the recession in 2004, but this is looking increasingly unlikely. (Key 5 - Short term economy – TRUE)

• Despite anti-war protests, the absence of sustained, violent upheavals like those of the 1960's, avoids loss of the social unrest key. (Key 8 - Social unrest – TRUE)

• The lack of a significant scandal implicating the president averts loss of the scandal key. (Key 9 - Scandal – TRUE)

• 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, unless the United States suffers major reversals in both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004. (Key 11- Foreign/military success – TRUE)

• Kerry does not match the charisma of Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy, keeping Republicans from losing the challenger charisma/hero key. (Key 13 - Challenger charisma – TRUE
The following four keys turn against the Republicans:

• The weak economy during the Bush term as compared to the boom years of Clinton’s two terms costs the Republicans the long-term economy key. (Key 6 - Long term economy – FALSE)

• The modest domestic accomplishments of the Bush administration topple the policy-change key. (Key 7 - Policy change – FALSE)

• With 9-11, the first successful foreign attack on the continental United States since the war of 1812 costs the party in power the foreign/military failure key. (Key 10 - Foreign/military failure – FALSE)

• George Bush is no Theodore Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, forfeiting the incumbent charisma/hero key. (Key 12 - Incumbent charisma – FALSE)

Late-changing keys have not affected the outcome of a presidential election since September and October of 1864 when General Sherman’s taking of Atlanta, General Sheridan’s victories in Virginia, and the sinking of the last Confederate ramming vessel turned the foreign/military success key in favor of the Lincoln administration and averted loss of the third party key.

The shakiest key for the administration has been and remains the foreign/military success key. It is possible that conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq -- especially now that military deaths in Iraq have crossed the 1,000 mark -- could become so dire as to cancel the President’s earlier successes. Even this turn of events, however, would still leave Bush one key short of defeat, according to the professor.

“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,” said Allan Lichtman.

Copyright Karyn Strickler.

The Keys are statements that favor the re election of the incumbent party. When five or fewer statements are false, the incumbent party wins. When six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

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.

KEY 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.

KEY 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.

KEY 4 (Third party): There is no significant third party or independent campaign.

KEY 5 (Short term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.

KEY 6 (Long term economy): Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.

KEY 7 (Policy change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

KEY 8 (Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term.

KEY 9 (Scandal): The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.

KEY 10 (Foreign/military failure): The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.

KEY 11 (Foreign/military success): The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.

KEY 12 (Incumbent charisma): The incumbent party candidate is charismatic, or a national hero.

KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging party candidate is not charismatic, or a national hero.

Allan J. Lichtman, The Keys to the White House (Lexington Books: Lanham, MD); 202-885-2411

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More Comments:

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Yes, but back then, or a few decades later at least, "liberal" meant free-trade or laissez-faire. In the 1940s and '50s, it typically meant in favor of bigger governments. Now it generally means the person using it as a blanket insult has a double digit IQ.

Philip R Wentworth - 11/24/2004

• The weak economy during the Bush term as compared to the boom years of Clinton’s two terms costs the Republicans the long-term economy key. (Key 6 - Long term economy – FALSE)

This was not the case. Many Americans understand four important things about the economy. 1. The Clinton boom years included a significant ($Trillions) bubble that had deflated and was sending the economy into recession before his term was over, 2. The attacks of 9/11 took a significant amount out of the economy exacerbating the recession, and 3. The economy is improving (Bush tax cuts are working) and 4. The "tax cuts for the rich" is a disingenuous argument in a capitalist society where a market injection of significant amounts of capital requires cutting tax rates on those who have the capital to invest.

• With 9-11, the first successful foreign attack on the continental United States since the war of 1812 costs the party in power the foreign/military failure key. (Key 10 - Foreign/military failure – FALSE)

Almost no one believed a ten month old administration should be held accountable for an attack that resulted from policies that go back several administrations. Secondly, the left, particularly the radical left, appeared to not understand the seriousness of the enemy we face. The left made the Kerry campaign appear tainted with pacifism. This was not fair to the Senator but cost him some number of votes.

Maarja Krusten - 11/9/2004

Livingston appears to live in Colorado, not Arizona. That was a slip on my part, I'd forgotten where he lived out West. Please see also comments from Livingston and from me at

I can't call that an exchange or conversation, as often happens on HNN, people "talk past each other." You at least tried to address some of my points, and I thank you for that.

Maarja Krusten - 11/8/2004

I no more no the outcome than you do. Please don't suggest that I believe there will be a defeat, I don't deserve that. You may not know that I am an historian, by profession, one who works for the federal government. I am trained to observe and note the views of fellow citizens. Perhaps you mix up some of the attitudes I report on with my own.

How do you feel about the fact that in Washington, DC, the area where I live, many people believe the fact that we went to war in Iraq has increased the chances that we will be attacked? Umm, you know, since I live in one of the 9/11 cities, I do know that 9/11 was an attack on America that required a massive response. (Where do you live, BTW) But, the last time I looked, this was a democracy, and people can disagree as to whether invading Iraq helped increase or decrease the chances of the U.S. being struck again. I happen to one of those who was cautiously optimistic when the war began, and hoped the President was right to go in. I am not so sure now. I have every right to ask about the planning, the decision making, etc., our troops deserve those types of questions being asked. I supported Nixon's policies loyally during Vietnam and all those US servicemen died and Vietnam went communist. Perhaps I should have been asking more questions back then.

As to the daily announcements I hear on the subway as I ride to work, warning commuters to be on the lookout for suspicious packages, etc., I assume that you are not like Dave Livingston, a Vietnam vet who lives in Arizona and who has shrugged here on HNN at the prospect of "DC and its parasites" getting wiped out. Or the women in NYC who was quoted in the New York Times, saying "the heartland doesn't care" if NY is hit by another attack. I have to laugh at the fact that no one -- no one -- on HNN has the grace to respond when I mention stuff like that. You HNN people could not signal more strongly how selective you are in what you care about. And of course you did not respond to my question about tort reform, etc. Disunited We Stand indeed.

Charles Edward Heisler - 11/8/2004

I did not suggest you were wanting defeat in Iraq Maarja, but you did suggest that was the inevitable outcome. I disagree.
It is the nature of armies to fight wars and when wars are fought, there are casualties. It is perfectly proper for a president to use the military to protect the American people--that is precisely what is happening as we speak.
Many people fail to acknowledge that 9/11 was an attack on America that required a massive response and many believe that there is no need for a war on international islamic terrorism. I am not one of those people and neither, so it seems, are the majority of the American people--they have read the attack and the needs correctly.

Maarja Krusten - 11/8/2004

please see
as I'm interested in how the issues you mention fit in among other national priorities

Maarja Krusten - 11/8/2004

I do not want a defeat in Iraq so surely you do not mean me. You must not have had time to look at what I had posted elsewhere. I lived through the Vietnam era and strongly supported the government's policy in that war, to the bitter end. I have family members who suffered under Communism in an occupied country (Estonia) in Europe. Some died before the country regained its independence in 1991--and I never got to meet my own grandparents, as a result. I as much as anyone want freedom and democracy for people. I know what it means not to have it. But that includes the right to ask questions here at home about where our nation is headed and how we got there, when we commit young men to fight and some to die. I am tired of hearing that called unpatriotic. I belonged to Young Americans for Freedom during the Vietnam war era, when I was an undergrad. That was a conservative group. I wore the Silent Majorit buttons on campus on behalf Nixon and handed out flyers, facing the jeer of an overwhelmingly Democrat party supporting student body. I voted straight Republican all through the Cold War. It is I who am asking the questions here, especially about Iraq, not some "Liberal." Call this a "Nixon Goes to China," comment,but nowadays, the abuse, as you call it, seems to run in equal measure both ways. I disdain it on the left, I disdain it on the right. Maybe that is why I am a centrist, a moderate, an Independent now. The rhetoric drove me there, as much as anything else.

Charles Edward Heisler - 11/8/2004

I must admit there is a certain bit in the mouth attitude amongst Republicans that will eventually fade but please understand the abuse that has been heaped on the Right by the Left for far too many years. We have not held with the theory that Conservatives are somehow too stupid to know reality, especially when we have been defining political reality for many years.
Nonetheless, the abuse keeps coming. Doesn't really matter now. I'm not so sure that all the king's horses and men will hold back the move to the right now--Democrats surely must see the futility of fighting this President on the issues of abortion, gay rights, and tort reform after 2000, 2002, and 2004.
Further, who says we are going to lose the war in Iraq?
The Vietnam analogy simply does not hold in Iraq--only those that want a defeat drag out this fallacious comparison.

Maarja Krusten - 11/7/2004

The President has called for national unity. But here on HNN, Republicans keep excoriating Democrats. This is short sighted. Remember, the Republicans control all of the government, which means one party, along with everyone who voted for Bush, now is responsible for everything that happens in the next four years. That's a huge responsibility. If stuff goes wrong, as it undoubtedly will, Republicans can't make someone else the whipping boy. For better or worse, Iraq now is a Republican War, unlike Vietnam, in which both parties had a vested interest, either in fighting the war or finding a way to end the war. (LBJ, Nixon, divided government, and all that. See and the trailing comment on Vietnam ) And the Democratic voters can sit back and say, have fun guys, war on, etc. I've already seen this on other message boards. Think about it. There are going to be areas where Bush needs the support of Democrats. If you keep excoriating Democratic voters, and baiting them, what incentive do they have to write their legislators and to urge support for policies where the President may need bipartisan support? Aren't they more likely to write and urge defiance and argue for filibusters? I don't get this business of being a sore winner, why all the anger? The best way to shed the old "meanspirited" label is to act like a gracious winner. Didn't the Prez signal that's what he wanted?

Nancy Tann - 11/7/2004

Wasn't this country founded by liberals?

Michael Di Tore - 11/6/2004

Your grip on reality is not what you think it is. Your "liberal" labeling tag is worn and outdated from the 60’s which is where your party is would like to return to. And your perception is low-ceilinged. Most Bush supporters simply ignore information they don’t like - even if the Bush administration confirms it itself! Total disconnect. They continue to believe in arguments even Bush and Cheny themselves have dropped - the WMD, and the Saddam/Al Qaeda connection, respectively. And this may be because they get their information from unreliable sources (the Fox News channel and Rush Limbaugh). The majority of Bush supporters still believe in these myths even though their president doesn’t. History records the rise and fall of the parties which is not necessarily caused by who is in power but also by events. Back in 1976 the position of the Republican party was bleak. President Gerald Ford had just lost the White House to Jimmy Carter, memories of Watergate still fresh. Republican officials were worried that their party face permanent marginalization and thought even the name Republican had become an albatross, people were writing an obituary for the party. But four years later, with Carter plagued by long gas lines and the Iran hostage crisis, Reagan swept in and launched the new GOP dominance. Events. That’s what is going to determine 2008. Today the Democrats are pretty much in this position and history shows that often a party’s chance of recapturing the White House and rebounding in Congress is dictated less by what it does than by events and how the party in power handles them. So don’t be too arrogant about who’s going to jerk who.

Charles Edward Heisler - 11/5/2004

Glad you refer your comments as "off-the-wall" tho, "off--the-planet" might be more accurate.
It is heartning for me to see you state that Kerry lost the election "because our election system is about as sophisticated as the poorest of African villages, because a large portion of American society keeps telling lies about itself..." This is heart and soul of the liberal belief system, as they suffer loss after loss, rejection after rejection--"they" are wrong, ignorant, meanspirited, pick the adjective.
Fine, we on the right prefer you continue to create these versions of your reality--keep standing on that rug, I am sure that in 2006, we will jerk it out from under you again.

Michael Di Tore - 11/3/2004

After reading Strickler's opinion piece (with no disrespect on what she said) I suppose I can make my own off-the-wall-comment too. It seems that many campaign activists, regardless of which side they are on are part of a propaganda apparatus without consciously realizing it. The powers that be from somewhere reward their collusion with a faint recognition or two down the line. Kerry lost the race not because of some 13-step program, although there are valid points in it, he lost it because our election system is about as sophisticated as the poorest of African villages, because a large portion of American society keeps telling lies about itself. He lost because the Republican party has had over 30 years of re-framing the issues (up is down and down is up) which provides them with a clear mandate to deceive people with. It is a sad time for America. And although the future looks bleak for those on the losing side there is a positive side. What it is time will tell.

Michael Meo - 11/3/2004

Auguste Comte appears to have a worthy successor; both the empirical fact of the surprising -- given the many polls showing Kerry winning -- Bush strength in the popular vote, as well as the clear theoretical basis for the at this writing valid prediction, quite at variance with virtually all pundits, establish the Keys to the White House as a significant work of social science.

As a sometime historian of science I would be delighted to know how the model arose from the study of earthquakes. As a progressive citizen, I grudgingly admit the high value of the predictive model, and ask whether the author can generalize what it says about democratic rule in general, including but not limited to this country.