Perusing Presidential Predictors

By Jim Ellis

July 18, 2019 — Most of the attention surrounding the upcoming presidential campaign has revolved around polling, but other factors may be better long-term predictors of what may happen in next year’s national election.

Economic indicators might be the most accurate predictor in presidential elections. | pandologic

The Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas firm, a bipartisan public affairs enterprise, has compiled some interesting historical trends that may provide major assistance in at least determining what to study in preparation for the next presidential campaign.

Two of the strongest factors relate to a candidate’s Washington experience and the state of the economy during a president’s two-year re-election cycle.

The Vietnam War and Watergate scandal prove to be an interesting historical divider. According to the Mehlman firm’s research, prior to Vietnam and Watergate, the candidate having the most Washington experience won nine of the 10 presidential elections from 1936 through 1972, inclusive. Yet, after Vietnam and Watergate, the candidate with the most Washington experience lost nine of the next 11 presidential contests from 1976 through 2016.

This series of statistics doesn’t play well for former Vice President Joe Biden. Of all presidential candidates in US history, Biden has the most Washington experience having served in elective office for 44 years when combining his time in the US Senate and two terms as vice president.

Should Biden not become the nominee, Sen. Bernie Sanders would then have the most Washington experience, a total of 30 years at the campaign’s end when combining his service in the House and Senate. Sanders aside, the remaining candidates, including President Trump, all have relatively equivalent Washington experience meaning this topic would not be much of a factor unless the Democratic nominee were either of the aforementioned Biden or Sanders.

The economic indicator, however, might be the most accurate predictor. Charting the presidential elections for 100 years between 1912 and 2012, the Mehlman group found that in the 12 elections where the incumbent was running for a second term and there was no recession during the two-year election cycle, all 12 won the related campaign. In the six elections where an incumbent president was running when facing a recession during the concurrent campaign years, five were defeated. Only President Calvin Coolidge in 1924 was re-elected under such circumstances.

Therefore, the economic recessionary conditions going into the 2020 election are likely to be highly determinative regarding whether President Trump wins a second term.

The Mehlman Castagnetti firm then cited strong economic factors that will likely help Trump explain his record to the voters.

The June unemployment statistics show that the most current result is the lowest since 1969. The economy reported the most manufacturing jobs since 2008. We are in the longest economic expansion in US history and see the most consecutive months of greater than three percent wage growth since 2009. The stock market is at an all-time high, and the inflation rate is the lowest for a president seeking re-election since 1955.

While all of these are important statistics, the president also sees daunting numbers cutting against him.

The Republican preference among women when compared to Democrats is a -21 percent, the lowest of the decade. Among young voters of aged 18-34 the GOP preference number is -22 percent. Among non-white voters, the preference percentage favors the Democrats by 48 percentage points, but this number, while the highest of the decade, isn’t particularly out of line when including the previous election years since 2010, inclusive.

In the white college-educated voter category, the preference drops to -16 percent. This compares to every other election year from the current decade where college educated white voters preferred the Republican Party over the Democrats.

Though the 2020 presidential election is still more than 15 months away, the previous factors yield some interesting benchmarks that could prove indicative in determining the outcome. We will see many changes, nuances, and unexpected happenings occurring before the next election concludes, all that will certainly affect the final tally, but understanding which are the most important indicators will help formulate the best predictions.

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