The Lichtman Factors — The winds favor Biden, but it’s a long way to shore

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

April 30th 2024

There is a list of election factors, compiled by American University’s Distinguished Professor of History Allan Lichtman clear back in 1984, that he used to forecast the results of presidential elections.

He predicts the results of the popular vote, and thus has accurately forecast all ten of the last elections. In 2000 Bush wound up President through a corrupt decision by the Supreme Court, and in 2016 the Electoral College robbed both Lichtman and the American people.

I’m going to go down Lichtman’s list now (the factors are pretty self-explanatory) and give an overview of where we stand in relation to each factor. Since the election is a good six months away, I plan to revisit the list in October when most of the various bugger factors have sorted themselves out. For example, while Biden will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee, I think the odds are less than even that Trump will be the Republican nominee. It’s too early to tell how well the National Association of Zealots and Ideologues will do at corrupting and possibly ending democracy. (They are underwriting a group calling itself “We The People” which opposes Democracy. Think about that for a moment). And of course, a lot of unexpected but far-from-unlikely events could take place between now an then: a war, a economic crash, one or both candidates dies, etc.

Forecasting an election now is every bit as accurate as forecasting the weather for six months from now. In other words, utterly useless. But using Lichtman’s list, we can get a sense of the current trend, and that trend favors Biden. He is favored by keys 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 13 right now. If he enjoys that same trend six months from now, I would say he has the election all but wrapped up.

So, let’s look over that list:

1. Party mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the US House of Representatives than after the previous midterm elections.

Obviously, the Dems lost ground in the last midterm and the GOP took the House. That’s a common thing in American politics, but this year the GOP are so inept and in such disarray that it’s possible that they could lose control of the House before the election. In some ways, they already have. The only reason Mike Johnson is still Speaker (or that we even HAVE a Speaker) is because the Dems are propping him up to avoid chaos. Which means the Dems expect support for some of Biden’s policies over the next few months.

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

Obviously this is the case for Biden. And if you want to argue that Trump is ALSO an incumbent, albeit one term removed, keep in mind that while the last of his in-party opposition has formally left the race, the “anyone-but-Trump” Republican vote is surprisingly strong, ranging from 25% to 33%.

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


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

“No Labels” is dead in the water, and RFK’s quixotic campaign is in real trouble now that Republicans realize that his reactionary and conspiracy-laden campaign is going to impact Trump’s base far more than it would Biden’s. One major bugger factor here is that if Trump is in prison or clearly mentally incapable, a conservative consensus for a third-party GOP alternative might emerge. Such would be a mainstream Republican such as Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney. No guesses at this time how such a shit show might play out.

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

There are a few clouds on the horizon (last month’s GDP slow-down) but that’s always the case. This strongly favors Biden.

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

If the Republicans keep running on the “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” chestnut, Biden should end up with 400 electoral votes. But he needs to beware the power of right wing propaganda.

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

Strongly in Biden’s favor, and he has a slew of new policy changes coming over the next few weeks. And with Mike Johnson pinned, he may be able to get some of them through the House.

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

This one could make or break Biden. Campuses are erupting over the slaughter in Gaza, and right wingers are anxious to exploit the unrest and create a “generation gap.” It could, in many ways, be a replay of 1968. Chances are Biden knows the costs of supporting Netanyahu, just as Lyndon Johnson knew continuing to escalate in Vietnam would cost him the presidency. Biden supporters, upset over the war, won’t vote for Trump. But they might not vote at all, which is just as bad. Biden has to navigate the choppy waters of defying Netanyahu without appearing to abandon Israel. Meanwhile, Trump is actively trying to foment social unrest and failing miserably.

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

Gosh, where to begin? Why, that horrible Mister Biden didn’t even shoot his dog! Meanwhile, the Republicans may have a felon candidate running from a jail cell.

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

Of course the known bugger factor here is Gaza. The pretend ‘border crisis’ will be flogged by every fascist in the GOP, but Biden just needs to remind voters, over and over, that the GOP themselves sabotaged their own solution to the border problems.

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

Critical for Biden at this time. He must solve the Netanyahu/Gaza mess.

12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.

Biden has both, but is leaning into the strong headwinds of fascist propaganda. He simply doesn’t get the credit he has earned.

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

OK, give me a minute to stop laughing. There are many MAGAts who still believe Trump is Jesus, Jefferson and Reagan all rolled up into one, and really does shoot 18-under-par. But strongman popularity is pretty brittle, and Trump’s bubble is in the process of popping.

So there you have it. Right now, the election is Biden’s to lose.

But it’s still an eternity off. We’ll revisit this in October.

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