Sunday, July 25, 2010

Model and Supermodel

Way back when I was a college student and the Soviet Union existed, I concocted a way of predicting who would be the next Soviet premier. As a sophisticated student of political science I observed certain characteristics of Soviet premiers throughout history and made a model to predict future premiers. I called it "The Minor Rhyme Scheme."

The Soviet Premiers prior to my matriculation were

Lenin
Stalin
Malenkov
Khrushchev
Brezhnev

The model correctly predicted Yuri Andropov as the next Soviet Premier; therefore it was a successful model.

Another, more serious model for Presidential succession has been put forward by Professor Allan Lichtman of The American University. He proposes that if 6 of 13 keys are false, the party that has the White House will lose it. The list, with true/false indicators for the current president per Prof Lichtman, is as follows:

1. He has achieved a major foreign policy victory. (false)
2. His party will not lose seats in the House of Representatives. (false)
3. Per capita economic growth exceeds the two previous presidential terms. (false)
4. He is a charismatic or a national hero. (false)

5. There is no serious contest for the Democratic Party nomination. (true)
6. Obama has not presided over a major foreign policy failure. (true)
7. His administration has achieved "major changes in national policy." (true)
8. There is no significant third party or independent campaign. (true)
9. There is no sustained social unrest during the term. (true)
10. The administration is untainted by major scandal. (true)
11. The administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. (true)
12. The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. (true)
13. The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (true)

In the March 26, 2010 edition of the Maryland Gazette, Prof. Lichtman says he can, using the model, predict now that Barack Obama will be reelected in 2012.

As you can see from the true/false indicators, Prof. Lichtman has taken as fact things that are likely, but that have not already happened. Some of his predictions on the factors are stronger than others:

2. His party will not lose seats in the House of Representatives. (false)
It is extremely rare for the party in the White House not to lose House seats in the mid-term election. He's on pretty sure footing on this one.

7. His administration has achieved "major changes in national policy." (true)
One can certainly argue, with the passage of the Obamacare bill, that the administration has achieved this goal. However, unlike most initiatives, the "beneficial" aspects of the bill lag far behind the costs to the public. This indicator presupposes an electorate that is in favor of the change and can feel its benefits. I do not believe this will be the case in 2012, and the further promise of good things to come will not stir the electorate.

10. The administration is untainted by major scandal. (true)
For this indicator it is way too early to tell. Even if you believe the President personally is above scandal, you cannot believe that all of his appointed staff are incapable of causing embarrassment to the boss to the point of enraging the electorate. This factor should be weighted so that scandal breaking closer to election day (i.e. October Surprise) counts more than one that breaks 24 months prior.

13. The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (true)
This one is the biggest stretch. Predicting who the Republican party will nominate more than a year before the first primary is dangerous territory. Remember, the odds on favorite at this stage of the run up to the 2008 election was Rudy Giuliani.

Allan Lichtman is a Democrat and a former unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Senate. Doubtless he wants Obama's reelection and wants to put his marker down early. But even with a good system, basing predictions on other predictions is fraught with peril.

By the way, in my Soviet model, I had no basis for predicting Konstantin Chernenko's assent to the Premiership, because Andropov completed the second AAB pattern. And for the next premier, the Rhyme Scheme predicted Gromyko instead of Gorbechev, who should have been second in line. So Gorbachev not only broke the Soviet Union, he also broke the Minor Rhyme Scheme.

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