As It Happens

'Trump will be president': Meet the prof with 30-year record of predicting winners

Professor Allan Lichtman has a true or false questionnaire that has picked the past eight presidential winners — and this time he says that, despite all the lies, Donald Trump looks to be the winner.
Allan Lichtman, right, says that according to his reliable questionnaire Donald Trump will win the election. But he insists that his "prediction is not an endorsement." (Joe Raedle/Getty Images; Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Forget the debates. Forget the final weeks of the campaign. Allan Lichtman can tell you right now who's going to be president of the United States.

The American University professor says for the past 30 years he has a perfect track record for predicting presidential election outcomes. His system is based on a simple list of true or false questions which he calls: The Keys to The White House.

Ahead of Monday's first presidential debate, Lichtman spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why he needs to add a caveat to his prediction for the 2016 election. Here is part of their conversation.

Allan Lichtman has predicted every election correctly since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election. According to his system, he predicts Donald Trump will win the 2016 election. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Professor Lichtman, according to your checklist or your keys, who's going to be the next president?

According to a straight call on the keys, Donald Trump will be the next president. I have been predicting elections for 30 years correctly, from 1984 to 2012. But this is the first time I have also put a caveat on my prediction. The caveat is history [shows] that the incumbent party, the Democrats, should lose this election. But Trump is a precedent shattering candidate.

We have never in modern history seen a candidate who has no public service whatsoever. Who has spent his life enriching himself, often at the expense of others as evidenced by his many bankruptcies, the Trump Foundation, the Trump Institute and other enterprises like that. He has said many, many things that would have driven other candidates out of this race, including for the first time in our history, inviting a foreign power, a hostile one, Russia, to meddle in our elections. It's okay for Donald Trump to say things that are false out of sheer ignorance. He has also suggested twice in thinly described terms the possibility of violence against his opponent. He suggested starting a war in the Persian Gulf by shooting out of the water Iranian boats if they got too close to our warships or made obscene gestures.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally in Jackson, Miss., Aug. 24, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

So it's safe to say that your prediction is not based on a wish or desire to see Donald Trump become the president.

It is a prediction, not an endorsement, and it is based on the patterns of history. I'm not a psychic who looks at a crystal ball and it's possible this year among all the elections I've predicted that we have an anomaly.

OK, but according to this checklist, these keys that have been so reliable for decades, what would make Donald Trump likely to win?

The way the system works is there are 13 true or false questions which gauge the strength and performance of the party holding the White House, the Democrats. If six or more go against the party in power, they are predicted to lose and right now there are six keys against the incumbent Democrats.

They have had some bad losses in the midterms of 2014. They don't have the sitting president running so it's an open seat — that's always harder. There is a pesky third party in the Libertarians, who never got more than one per cent before but are now certainly, at least based on polling, look like they are going to get above my threshold of five per cent. There is no major domestic policy initiative in the second term. There's no major foreign policy success that resonates with the public like getting rid of Bin Laden in the first term and Hillary Clinton is not a historically charismatic candidate like a Franklin Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy.

That's six, enough to count out, based on the keys, the party holding the White House.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent Donald Trump are set to square off Monday night in the first 2016 presidential debate. (Andrew Kelly, Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

So, based on your keys and this checklist it would appear that the Democrats and Hillary Clinton will lose. But is there anything in your checklist that indicates that Donald Trump will win?

There is nothing in my checklist that indicates Donald Trump would win, because my checklist is solely based on analyzing the prospects for the party holding the White House. So a generic Republican is expected to win, but as I've explained, Donald Trump is anything but a generic Republican. That explains why things are so close. The pattern of history suggests Donald Trump will win. Donald Trump as a history shattering candidate suggests that he might lose. This is the toughest test ever.

Nate Silver has dismissed your history based approach. He thinks this is unscientific. What do you say to Mr. Silver? 

First of all, he's not a scientist. I am. He's suggested I've jiggered my system to get it right. But, you can't jigger it when you're predicting the unknown. He was wrong in his critique. I wrote him an email and said, look you ultimately came around to my prediction, lets do a joint article, explaining how your polling method and my historically based prediction system, ultimately came to the same answer. Never heard from Nate Silver again. 

If Donald Trump does become president, what does that say about the mood in the United States right now?

I think this tells us what the keys are telling us: this is a change election. 

Here are Lichtman's 13 Keys to The White House:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with professor Allan Lichtman.


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