American University Professor Allan Lichtman created the 13 Keys to the Presidency. The system predicts who will win the White House popular vote in the next election. It has been right going back to 1860, although it failed in 2000, when Gore lost the electoral college to George W. Bush. In order for the incumbent part to win it needs eight out of the thirteen.
The key point: At this point, as 2012 looms, Obama has nine of the thirteen. Based on this system he is a favorite for re-election as of May 2011.
A key-by-key explanation follows beneath the fold.
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.
As the Republicans took over Congress in 2010, this key falls.
2. Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.
Despite what some on the far left believe, there will be no primary challenge to Obama. Yes the "professional left" is unhappy with Obama, but there isn't anyone out there like Ted Kennedy was in 1980 to challenge Jim Carter. As there is likely to be no primary challenge this key stands.
3. Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.
Unless Obama decides not to run again this key stands.
4. Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign.
Ralph Nader got 2.74 of the vote in 2000, but didn't topple the key. The last candidate who did was Ross Perot. At this point there is no viable third party candidate out there. Maybe Trump would run, but he would probably fade out as the election gets closer. So this key stands.
These four keys above are the most predictive of them all. In 1996 Clinton had lost only two. Bush had them all in 2004. Reagan had three out of the four in 1984. Bush the father had only three out of the four against him in 1992. Generally, with the exception of two-term president having left office, being any more than two keys down is bad at this stage. Being down three, as Bush was in 1992 and Humphrey was in 1968, is all but a recipe for loss.
5. Short term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
This key stays with Obama at this point, as there is no recession right now accordingly to the official definition. If the economy falls into recession during the 2012 campaign it will turn against Obama.
6. Long term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
I don't have the economic date in hand. However, the economy had negative growth during Bush's last few months. But I will assume that this key falls just to be conservative because growth in the last quarter slowed down to 1.8%
7. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.
This is a tough one for me. The healthcare reform bill, despite what some people here think, was a major step forward. No president had succeeded at getting any healthcare bill passed at all since the early 1900s. The President also eliminated DADT, another major change, since gays have not been allowed to serve openly.
But at the same time there was no public option nor single-payer plan. The plan still kept the insurance system. Getting rid of DADT was a big deal, but it falls short probably of FDR's New Deal or Reaganomics.
To be conservative I will say that the key falls.
8. Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.
I don't think this key has turned since the Vietnam era. No protests seem to be on the horizon, so this key stands.
9. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
No Whitewater equivalent has emerged with Obama. Quite frankly I'm somewhat surprised that the right hasn't filed pointless lawsuits against Obama. But there is no Ken Starr, Paula Jones, or Monica Lewinsky on the horizon. This key stands.
10. Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
Yes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue unabated. However, there has been no equivalent of Somalia. And had the raid to get OBL failed this key would have almost certainly turned. The wars continue, but there haven't been any significant setbacks. . So Obama keeps this key.
11. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
The death of OBL wins Obama this key. An event like the unification of North and South Korea, the final settlement of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict, or Castro falling in Cuba would also win this key. Quite possibly OBL's death provides Obama with insurance against one of the other keys falling. This key stands.
12. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
Obama isn't JFK or Ronald Reagan. This key falls.
13. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
And, on the GOP side, none of their candidates rises to that level. This key stands.
So, going into 2012, Obama has lost Keys 1, 6, 7, and 12. Even if I turn key 5 against him, he is still up eight to five. Assuming that I am wrong on six, Obama might only have Keys 1, 7, and 12 against him.
The capture of OBL has provided him with insurance going into 2012. Without it Obama would have less room for error. But Bush also lost in 1992 after winning Gulf War I, but Bush had three out of the first four Keys against him even before going into the rest off the remaining nine.
So Obama is the favorite for 2012. Even if both economic keys turn against him, based on the math above, he still has enough to win.
But this analysis is relevant as of today. Future events could easily turn these keys against Obama, especially should Afghanistan become extremely violent.