Allan Lichtman, a political forecaster and historian, has accurately predicted almost every presidential election of the past four decades, even confidently predicting that Donald Trump would win in 2016. Now Lichtman is making his prediction for 2020, including a win for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. But much like all predictions, it’s important to look at Lichtman’s caveats, which are only included for a few seconds at the end of a new video from the New York Times.
The video explores Lichtman’s history of predictions, including his “13 Keys” for judging who will win during any given election year. Lichtman goes through his “keys,” including everything from whether the incumbent’s party made gains during a midterm election (Trump did not) and whether there’s social unrest in the country leading up the election (there definitely is).
Some of Lichtman’s criteria seem extremely subjective, such as whether the incumbent is “charismatic,” something that Lichtman says Trump isn’t. Needless to say, Trump is very charismatic to a large portion of his voting base, much in the way that a cult leader is charismatic.
But arguably the most important part of Lichtman’s prediction that Biden will win in 2020 is the caveats he includes at the end of the video, which you can watch at the New York Times website and embedded below.
“There are forces at play outside the keys,” Lichtman warns at the end of his video after boldly claiming Biden will definitely win. “Voter suppression, Russian meddling...”
And there’s the rub.
Lichtman has correctly predicted the results of almost every election since 1984, aside from the 2000 election when Republican George W. Bush took power following a controversial Supreme Court decision. Bush’s Democratic opponent, Al Gore, won the popular vote, but Bush clinched a narrow win in Florida after a recount was halted in the state, putting Bush over the line to take the Electoral College.
Strangely, Lichtman claims that his incorrect prediction that Gore would win in 2000 shouldn’t count because someone winning the popular vote and losing the electoral college hadn’t happened in over a century.
“I wasn’t wrong. I correctly predicted that Al Gore would win the popular vote. When I first developed the system in 1981, you had to go all the way back to 1888 to find a divergence between the popular vote and the Electoral College vote,” Lichtman says in the new video as a bizarre rationalization.
And that gets down to the problem we face in 2020. Predicting a Biden win might be reasonable if you’re using the same criteria from what most Americans would consider normal times. But we don’t live in normal times. We live in extremely abnormal times, with a pandemic raging, people getting picked up by secret police, and a president who’s sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service during an unprecedented health crisis that makes voting by mail more crucial than ever. All of that is to say nothing of the fact that President Trump has said he won’t necessarily accept defeat if he actually loses in November.
Lichtman ends his video by encouraging people to vote and saying “As Abraham Lincoln said, the best way to predict the future is to choose it.” It’s a common internet meme, but Lincoln never said it. As the website Quote Investigator explains, the first use of this saying and its multiple variations probably originates in the 1960s. President Lincoln was assassinated a century earlier in 1865.
Predictions are hard, as any regular reader of Paleofuture knows. Every good prognosticator includes caveats about why their predictions might be wrong. And while plenty of people will be happy to see Lichtman predicting a win for Biden, this election cycle is far from over.
The devil is in the details. And in this case, the devil is Donald J. Trump.