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# Keys to the White House

The Keys to the White House, developed by Allan Lichtman, is a system for predicting the winner of American presidential elections, based upon the theory of pragmatic voting. America’s electorate, according to this theory, chooses a president, not according to events of the campaign, but according to how well the party in control of the White House has governed the country. If the voters are content with the party in power, it gains four more years in the White House; if not, the challenging party prevails. Thus, the choice of a president does not turn on debates, advertising, speeches, endorsements, rallies, platforms, promises, or campaign tactics. Rather, presidential elections are primarily referenda on the performance of the party holding the White House.

## Method

Lichtman first developed the Keys system in 1981, in collaboration with Vladimir Keilis-Borok, founder of the International Institute of Earthquake Prediction Theory and Mathematical Geophysics. The methodology used in the development of the Keys is described in Keilis-Borok and Lichtman (1981) and Lichtman (2008, 2010a). As shown in Table 1, each of the thirteen keys is stated as a threshold condition that always favors the re-election of the party holding the White House. For example, Key 5 is phrased as “The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.” Each key can then be assessed as true or false prior to an upcoming election and the winner predicted according to a simple decision rule. Unlike other systems for predicting election results, the Keys do not assume a fixed relationship between election results and one more dependent variables, such as economic growth or presidential approval ratings. Rather predictions are based on an index comprised of the number of false or negative keys: When five or fewer keys are false, the incumbent party wins; when any six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

## 2020 forecast

In his 2020 forecast, Lichtman coded seven keys as false (red font color in Table 1). Thus, the Keys model predicts that the Democrats will in 2020. In order to translate this forecast into a forecast of the incumbent’s popular two-party vote (V), PollyVote uses the number of Keys coded as `True` as the single predictor in a simple linear regression model that is estimated based on historical data from 1860 to 2012.

This approach was suggested in Armstrong & Cuzán (2006). The regression, updated through 2016, yielded the following vote equation:

V = 37.3 + 1.77 * `True` = 37.3 + 1.77 * 6 = 47.9%

That is, the Keys model predicts Trump to gain 47.9% of the two-party popular vote (Biden: 52.1%).

## Past performance

Retrospectively, the keys model accounts for the outcome of every American presidential election since 1860, much longer than any other prediction system. Prospectively, the Keys to the White House has correctly forecast the winner of all eight presidential elections from 1984 to 2016, usually months or even years prior to Election Day.

Table 2 reports the first published predictions based on the Keys for the elections of 1984 through 2016.

#### References

• Armstrong, J. S. & A. G. Cuzán (2006). Index methods for forecasting: An application to the American presidential elections, Foresight: The International Journal of Applied Forecasting, (2006, 3), 10-13.
• Keilis-Borok, V. I. & Lichtman, A. J. (1981). Pattern Recognition Applied to Presidential Elections in the United States, 1860-1980: The Role of Integral Social, Economic, and Political Traits, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 78 (November 1981), 7230-7234.
• Lichtman, A. J. (2006). The Keys to the White House: Forecast for 2008, Foresight: The International Journal of Applied Forecasting, 3, (February 2006), 5-9.
• Lichtman, A. J. (2008). The Keys to the White House, 2008 Edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
• Lichtman, A. J. (2010). The Keys to the White House:  A Preliminary Forecast for 2012” International Journal Of Information Systems & Social Change 1 (Jan.-March 2010).

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