The Ten Million Reasons Why the Washington Post Loves Professor Allan Lichtman

Carlos Lozada of the Washington Post on Sunday credited American University professor Allan Lichtman and his Keys to the White House with “calling every presidential contest since 1984.” Lichtman’s 13 keys predict the winner of the presidential popular vote. In 2000, he correctly predicted that Al Gore would win the popular vote, but George W. Bush won the election and the presidency. In 2016, Lichtman’s keys predicted that Donald Trump would win the popular vote, which he didn’t—Hillary Clinton got almost three million more votes. That faulty popular vote prediction was the result of a Lichtman mistake with his 13 keys.

So Lichtman didn’t predict who would be elected President in 2000 and his prediction of who would win the popular vote in 2016 was wrong. Which doesn’t stop Lozada and many others from saying Lichtman’s keys have called every president election since 1984

On the Internet, being wrong—or misleading—doesn’t hurt. In fact, misleading or fake news can get millions of clicks. Here’s Chris Cillizza, then editor of the Post’s “The Fix,” on December 31 summing up how his group of Washington Post reporters did last year.

At the end of every year, I like to look back on what The Fix did well and what did well on The Fix. (These are often similar things — but not always.) It’s one way I try to understand what people are interested in when it comes to politics.

The answer this year? Allan Lichtman. Allan Lichtman. Allan Lichtman.

Lichtman is a distinguished professor of history at American University who, most notably, has developed a full-proof and time-tested system to predict the winner of presidential elections. In this election, his system suggested, narrowly, that Donald Trump would win — at a time when you couldn’t find ANYONE willing to say that on the record.

Lichtman made that prediction in an interview with The Fix’s Peter Stevenson — one of several times the two chatted over the course of the fall. And, every time Lichtman said, well, anything, readers flocked.

Of the 10 most trafficked posts on The Fix in 2016, four involved Lichtman and his unorthodox predictions. Those four posts totaled more than 10 million unique visitors alone and were four of the 37 most trafficked posts on the entire WaPo website this year:

2016 was most definitely the Year of Lichtman.

And most definitely the year that Lichtman’s prediction that Donald Trump would win the 2016 popular vote was wrong.

Comments

  1. In 2011, Allan Lichtman and Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com had a back and forth about the validity of the “Keys to the White House.” The link: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/keys-to-the-white-house-historian-responds/

    Included in it was this chart prepared by Lichtman about where his predictions appeared in the media:

    Keys To The White House: Timing of Predictions
    Election Year Date of Prediction Source

    1984 April 1982 “How to Bet in ’84,” Washingtonian Magazine, April 1982, 147-49.

    1988 May 1988 “How to Bet in November,” Washingtonian Magazine, May 1988, 115-24.

    1992 Sept. 1992 “The Keys to the White House,” Montgomery Journal, Sept. 14, 1992, 12.

    1996 Oct. 1996 “The Keys to the White House: Who Will Be the Next American President?” Social Education, Oct.1999, 358-360.

    2000 Nov. 1999 “The Keys to Election 2000” Social Education, Nov./Dec. 1999, 422-24.

    2004 April 2003 “The Keys to the White House,” Montgomery Gazette, April 25, 2003, 4.

    2004 March 2006 “The Keys to the White House: Forecast for 2008,” Foresight: The International Journal of Applied Forecasting (Feb. 2006), 5-9.

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