Can Patterns Predict the Winner of the 2020 Presidential Contest

There is an interesting pattern that could predict the winner of the 2020 Presidential Contest. Strangely that pattern is the presence of an outsider candidate on one of the Big Party tickets.

Normally, I ignore such theories but the man making these predictions has a fascinating track record. Allan J. Lichtman successfully predicted the winners of every U.S Presidential election between 1984 and 2016. Moreover, Lichtman was one of the few observers who accurately called the 2016 Presidential contest for Donald J. Trump (R-New York).

Now Licthman, is offering a fascinating theory about the 2020 presidential election. Interestingly, Lichtman thinks current circumstances favor Trump’s reelection next year. However, Lichtman believes the right Democrat could beat Trump.

Safe and experienced presidential candidates are not electable

Lichtman; a distinguished history professor at American University, believes two sets of circumstances determine modern American presidential elections.

First modern voting patterns favor anti-establishment and outsider candidates. In a Quartz essay Lichtman writes that “safe, experienced, insider” presidential candidates invariably lose in modern elections. History, is on Licthman’s side here.

In the 11 presidential elections since the Watergate scandal destroyed Richard M. Nixon (R-California); an establishment insider has won only once. Here are the results of those elections:

Establishment Candidates Cannot Win

The only time an insider won a presidential race; in the last 11 contests, was when two insiders faced each other in 1988. Consequently, this pattern favors Trump, whom voters view as the ultimate outsider.

However, all bets will be off if both parties run outsider candidates, something that has not occurred since 1980. Back then, Reagan won by convincing voters that fellow outsider Jimmy Carter was the establishment. I think such a strategy could work against Trump; who goes out of his way to kiss up to the Republican establishment.

Importantly, the Emerson Poll names U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) as the front runner in the Democratic primary contest. Sanders; a self-styled democratic socialist, is a consummate professional outsider. Consequently, a smart Democratic strategy will be to portray Trump as a spineless ass kisser and yes man.

Why Do Outsiders Win?

I think outsider candidates win because of a massive disconnect between voters and party establishments.

Trump’s 2016 victory shows most Republican voters are to the left of their party leadership on cultural and economic issues for example. In addition, Trump’s popularity proves most Republicans are uncomfortable with their party’s cozy relationship with Big Business.

Strangely, Bernie’s success demonstrates most Democrats are also to the left of their party establishment on economic issues. Additionally, Democratic voters are intolerant of their party’s incestuous relationships with Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Academia, the Intelligentsia, and the Big Media.

I guess this disconnect exists because our corrupt political finance system allows Big Money to skew political results in its favor. Candidates take unpopular pro business, libertarian, and politically correct positions for big checks. However, recent events show Big Money cannot buy popularity.

Who are the Outsiders in 2020

Essentially, average Americans view the establishments of both parties, academia, the media, and much of the business community as hopelessly corrupt. Not surprisingly they only listen to political figures they view as outside the establishment.

People respect Obama because he is black; and therefore not part of the white power structure. Furthermore, voters respect George W. Bush; because he is a born again Christian, and outside the secular power structure. Conversely, Trump and Bernie’s popularity stems from the hostility big media, mainstream politicians, and the entertainment industry show to them.

Consequently, I think the anti-establishment voting pattern favors Andrew Yang (D-New York), Trump, and US Senator Kamala Harris (D-California). To elaborate Yang is Asian, nerdy, and totally outside the political establishment. Meanwhile, Trump is the antithesis of everything today’s American elite loves.

Harris, on the other hand, is establishment but she is nonwhite (half-black and half-Indian), a woman, a tough girl, and willing to embrace radical policies the establishment hates. Thus, I think Harris is the one person who could unite establishment and rank and file Democrats in the present political environment.

An establishment background handicaps another would be outsider; far-left US Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts). Warren is a former Harvard law professor which makes her suspect in voters’ eyes.

Sorry Moderates your Time is Past

However, I think establishment Democrats will fall in line behind whoever primary Democrats pick in 2020. The establishment will bow to voters because it wants to win the White House. Remember, such a strategy worked for Republicans in 2016.

Under these conditions, moderates like former Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware), Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas); Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-Indiana), and the hoard of white male professional pols in Iowa, do not stand a chance in 2020. As a result, the best result O’Rourke; or John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), can hope for is a vice presidential nomination or a cabinet position.

Are there Keys to the Presidency?

Lichtman’s other theory is that there are 13 Keys to the White House. Professor Licthman believes any candidate who meets most of his 13 criteria will win.

For the record those criteria are:

  1. A party mandate
  2. Lack of a primary challenge
  3. Incumbency
  4. No significant third party challenge.
  5. The short-term economy is good for average Americans. Note: Lichtman uses the phrase not in recession.
  6. Long term Per capita economic growth is strong for most Americans.
  7. The party in office is achieving policy changes.
  8. There is no significant social or political unrest in the country.
  9. No presidential scandals.
  10. Current administration has no noticeable military or foreign policy failures.
  11. Present administration achieves a notable military or foreign policy success.
  12. The incumbent president is popular. Licthman uses the phrase “charismatic or a popular hero.”
  13. Challenger charisma. The challenging candidate is unpopular or boring.

How Accurate are the Keys to the White House?

Obviously, Donald J. Trump fills some of these criteria. However, some of the factors are uncertain. In particular, America is experiencing economic growth but average Americans are not benefiting from it.

Notably, Pew Research observes “For most U.S. workers, real wages have barely budged in decades” in a recent report. Pew’s researchers calculate that the buying power of the average American’s wage is no higher than it was in 1979.

Consequently, Lichtman’s sixth key to the White House could no longer hold. Economic prospects look bleak; and are getting bleaker for many Americans. That key could help Bernie, US Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts), or Andrew Yang next year.

Will the Black Swan pick America’s Next President?

Finally, Licthman concedes that Black Swan events can upset his calculations. Black Swans or unforeseen events that can upset a presidential election include war, foreign crises, economic crises, and scandals.

A fascinating possibility in 2020 is an engineered Black Swan event. A terrorist attack or a scandal; like the leak of the Democratic National Committee’s emails in 2016, for example. Tellingly, Licthman tells CNN he thinks the Democrats’ best strategy could be to engineer a scandal by trying to impeach Trump and exposing the many skeletons in the President’s closet.

Likewise, outside players can engineer Black Swan events. An obvious nightmare for Republicans could be all of Trump’s tax returns going viral online in September or October of 2020. Since Chinese, Iranian, Russian, and other foreign intelligence agencies probably have Trump’s tax returns those documents could turn up at any time.

Voting Patterns can change

A caveat to understand here is that presidential voting patterns can change dramatically. In 20th Century elections before Watergate, voters favored insider establishment candidates.

In fact, insider Nixon defeated outsider and radical leftist US Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota) in a landslide in 1972. However, just four years later voters dramatically rejected establishment insider Ford in favor of the largely unknown Carter.

Moreover, the two greatest defeats in presidential history were to outsider candidates. For the record, those defeats were to US Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona) in 1964 and McGovern in 1972.

Voting patterns changed because most voters trusted the party establishments during the 20th Century. However, the Vietnam War and Watergate killed that trust and it has never really come back.

I think Lichtman’s analysis has merit because I see no indication voters’ faith in the establishment is renewing. Only history will tell if Lichtman’s Keys to the White House will apply next year.