During customer research projects at Ideba, we consistently find trends.  The aggregate data we collect from customer interviews gives us first-hand accounts of what they’re thinking enabling us to find accurate inclinations. However, trends in the case of this year’s U.S. presidential election cannot be found so directly. Last election, one needed to pay attention to minuscule factors to accurately predict the outcome.  No one looked at the right predictors, they failed to see the trends, and citizens got a big surprise.

Now, 4 years later we’ve got a new landscape to track and things are much different. So, we need a fresh approach to analysis this time around. Polls have proven sketchy, so what to watch in 2020?

I’ve got one source to recommend: American Historian Allan Lichtman.  He’s correctly predicted presidential elections since the 80’s using his 13 factors (or “keys”) with only two exceptions: 1) in 2000, he predicted that Gore would be the next president; Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. And 2) in September 2016, his keys forecasted that Trump would win the popular vote when he actually lost the popular vote but did win the electoral college. So, very close calls in his two misses.

The bottom line is: Lichtman’s keys are a reliable indicator. His approach applies scientific pattern recognition methodology to American presidential election data from 1860 through our last election. So, his keys hold up in over 150 years’ worth of election history.

So, let me list out what is locked down (TRUE) with his “keys” and what one should track on over this coming year for an accurate prediction (his rule is: if 6 or more are FALSE, the incumbent party loses):


  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 – FALSE, lost in 2018
  2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination – TRUE
  3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president – TRUE
  4. Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign – TRUE
  5. Short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign – currently TRUE, recession can be established over a 3-month period
  6. Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms – TRUE
  7. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy – TRUE
  8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term- currently TRUE
  9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal – FALSE, impeachment
  10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs – QUESTIONABLE, Ukraine meddling activities viewed as a failure by most
  11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs – QUESTIONABLE, no universally agreed upon success so far
  12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero – FALSE, popularity has never grown to over 50% nor ever substantially risen due to his charisma
  13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero – QUESTIONABLE, depends on outcome of Democratic primaries

What you’ll want to pay attention to are the ones that could change over upcoming months or the questionable keys.  The incumbent currently has 3 FALSE statements. If he gets 3 more, he will lose reelection.  So, the recommended keys to watch for over the upcoming 8 months are:

  • Did a recession develop? – if so, you can change key #5 to FALSE
  • Has social unrest developed? – if a Me-Too-type-movement-on-steroids develops with mass protesting in the streets, key #8 would change to FALSE
  • Is any recent foreign or military action viewed as a failure?  If so, #10 would be FALSE
  • Have there been no major successes in foreign / military actions? If so, #11 would be FALSE
  • Have the Democrats chosen a candidate that is clearly “charismatic?” If so, 13 would be FALSE

Watch for at least 3 of the above things to occur over this election cycle. If less than 3 happen, the outcome is reelection. You may need Lichtman himself to weigh in on them around September in some cases, but luckily his assessments will be easy to Google in the final months leading up to November 3rd

Et loqueris populo.

If you’ve got comments or insights about elections trends, share them with us on LinkedIn.

Mark Salow, Senior Consultant