Psephology, a term coined in UK in 1952 by R.B. Mc Callum, is a branch of political science that deals with the statistical study of elections using historical voting data, public opinion polls and similar statistical data.
Over the years, various psephologists have developed different models and techniques to analyse elections based on different statistical data’s available and predict presidential voting outcomes.
Some acclaimed psephologists include Helmut Norpoth, Nate Silver and Allan Lichtman, among many others.
Helmut Norpoth - Helmut Norpoth is a political science professor at Long Island’s Stoney Brook University. He developed a model to predict presidential voting outcome that he called the Primary model which has correctly predicted all five presidential elections since 1996.
The model uses presidential primaries as a predictor of votes in the general election as well as makes use of the cyclical movement of the electoral pendulum that is useful for forecasting. It is a cyclical model, that depends on how well the party does in its re-election compared to its vote when it first captures the White House.
According to the primary model, Donald Trump is predicted to defeat Hillary Clinton by 52.5% to 47.5% of the two-party vote. Norpoth had made the prediction in March and still stands by his election prediction.
Allan Lichtman (Twitter: @AllanLichtman)– Professor Lichtman is a history professor at the American University and has a 30-year clear record of successfully predicting results of the elections. His predictions are not based on public-opinion polls, shifting demographics or his own political opinions. Rather, he uses a system of true/false statements that he calls the “Keys to the White House” to determine his predicted winner.
He created his “13 Keys to the White House” more than 30 years ago that consists of 13 true or false questions which measure the strength and performance of the party holding the White House. If six or more keys go against the party in power, the results are expected to be negative i.e. the party is expected to lose in the next elections.
His keys are based solely on historical results which he derived by looking at every American presidential election from 1860 to 1980. The keys are phrased to reflect the basic theory that elections are primarily judgments on the performance of the party holding the White House.
The keys, which are explained in depth in Lichtman’s book “Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House 2016” are:
- 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.
- Contest: There is no serious contest for the incumbent party nomination.
- Incumbency: The incumbent party candidate is the sitting president.
- Third party: There is no significant third party or independent campaign.
- Short-term economy: The economy is not in recession during the election campaign.
- Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
- Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.
- Social unrest: There is no sustained social unrest during the term.
- Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
- Foreign/military failure: The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs.
- Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs.
- Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero.
- Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
Predictions for the current US Presidential elections 2016, according to these 13 keys given by professor Allan Lichtman have pointed out a clear win for Trump since six keys are against the incumbent Democrats. Lichtman explains the results by pointing out that the current ruling party, Democrats had some bad losses in the midterms of 2014, they don’t have the sitting president running so it’s an open seat which is generally much more harder, there is also a third party in the running, Libertarians, who unlike ever before are expected to get above five per cent votes. Also, there is no major domestic policy initiative in the second term nor is there any major foreign policy success that resonates with the public. Moreover, according to him, Hillary Clinton is not a historically charismatic candidate like a Franklin Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy.
These six reasons based on the model indicate a clear win for Trump.
Nate Silver, another acclaimed psephologist dismissed Lichtman’s history based approach as according to him this approach is unscientific.
Nate Silver (Twitter: @NateSilver538) - He is an American Sabermetrics and psephologist. He is currently the editor-in-chief of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight and a Special Correspondent for ABC News.
Silver gave the Prosperity Prediction model which is based primarily on the public opinion polls. The model uses various steps to predict presidential voting outcomes.:
- Weighted polling average: the weighted average of the polls is taken with the most recent polls receiving more weightage.
- Adjusted polling average: the polling average is then subjected to the most suitable type of adjustments i.e. trendline adjustment (An estimate of the overall momentum in the national political environment is determined based on a detailed evaluation of trends within generic congressional ballot polling.), the house effects adjustment (polls from a particular polling firm sometimes tend to be more favourable toward one or the other political party.) or the likely voter adjustment (Some survey all American adults, some survey only registered voters, and others are based on responses from respondents deemed to be “likely voters,” as determined based on past voting behaviour or present voting intentions.).
- FiveThirtyEight Regression: The polling average is then augmented with linear regression analysis that attempts to predict the candidates’ standing according to several non-poll factors like incumbency status, state’s partisan voting index, composition of party identification in the state’s electorate etc.
- Snapshot: The adjusted polling average and the regression are then combined into a ‘snapshot’ that provides the most comprehensive evaluation of the candidates’ present electoral standing
- Election Day Projection: large polling leads have a systematic tendency to diminish in races with a large number of undecided voters, especially early in an election cycle.
- Error Analysis: It is important to determine the degree of uncertainty intrinsic to the forecast. The prediction reports generally report only sample variance, but not other ambiguities inherent to polling which are taken into consideration by Silver’s model.
- Simulation: The local and national components of the error calculation are then randomly generated (according to a normal distribution) over the course of 100,000 simulation runs.
In 2008, Silver successfully predicted the outcomes in 49 of the 50 states in the U.S. Presidential election and was named one of The World’s 100 most influential people by Times in 2009. In the 2010 U.S. presidential elections, Silver correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
His website blog FiveThirtyEight tracks U.S. voting trends won Webby Awards as the “Best Political Blog” from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences in 2012 and 2013.
Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise, which was published in September 2012 reached The New York Times best seller list for non-fiction, and won the 2013 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. The book has since then been translated into nine languages: Chinese, Czech, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, and Romanian.
According to him, Hillary Clinton is expected to win the 2016 Presidential elections by a landslide. He sees Democrat Hillary Clinton getting 49.1 percent of the vote, Republican Donald Trump Getting 42.1 percent, and Libertarian Gary Johnson getting 7.5 percent.
The study of Psephology has many dimensions and psephologists keep developing new models and modifying existing models to make the most accurate predictions. Even though different psephologists are rooting for the win of different presidential candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections based on their prediction models, the only way to find out for sure is through the final vote count on November 8.