Friday, 2 September 2011

Will President Obama be re-elected?

The electoral news on the other side of the Atlantic is that 'never-wrong' electoral analyst and 'egghead' Alan Lichtman has picked President Obama (above) to be re-elected next year. Apparently he's got a lock on most of the 'keys' that have secured the popular vote for the winner over the last two hundred years - scoring high on foreign policy successes and an avoidance of scandal during his time in the White House for instance. Lichtman has garnered quite a bit of coverage for his research and his views - manna from heaven for hard-pressed and ill-regarded academics everywhere.

But is he right? History is full of examples where pundits have come spectacularly unstuck, such as those political scientists who predicted an Al Gore Presidential win in 2000 based partly on the booming state of the economy. Though their overall numbers were only a little out (and way within the margin of error in some cases), the consequences of just a few small changes were momentous indeed.

As Nate Silver points out over at '538', many of Lichtman's so-called 'keys' are entirely personal readings of the situation, such as whether the candidate is 'charismatic' or not, and whether his or her opponent is a 'national hero'. Who's to say? Senator John McCain did a passable job of the latter status until his campaign so spectacularly fell apart over Wall Street's crises and his Vice-Presidential pick, Sarah Palin.

Here we should look at the situation in front of us, rather than extremely subjective and and error-prone readings of the past.

What do they tell us? Political pundits favour Obama by a margin of 55-45. With their own money, which is a pretty good guide to what people actually believe. The complicated maths of the United States Electoral College, which actually elects the President, tends to favour their candidates at the moment. And state-by-state polls show Obama closer to the Electoral College finishing line than a nominal Republican opponent. The power of incumbency and the bully pulpit of the Presidency are still on his side. He's a formidable campaigner and (most of the time) a likeable personality.

So the best answer to our question is still this: no-one knows. At the moment, it's just slightly more likely than the alternative, but it depends on who the Republicans nominate as their candidate.

That's it. Not very exciting, but don't let anyone tell you any different.

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