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Jean-Pierre Beugoms on the 2024 US Elections

Jean-Pierre Beugoms on the 2024 US Elections

"When forecasting a presidential election, I start with the Keys"

In this episode of Talking About the Future, I talk to military historian and superforecaster Jean-Pierre Beugoms about the upcoming elections in the US. We talk about whether outsiders have an advantage forecasting elections, the main factors that determine who wins a presidential election, how the abortion issue might affect the vote, and the impact of third-party and independent candidates. We both think Democrats are likely to do well in November, but disagree about which party is likely to control the Senate; we give our forecasts at the bottom of this post. You can listen to my full conversation with Dr. Beugoms using the audio player above or on most podcast platforms. Excerpts from our conversation, edited for clarity, are below.

What are the main factors you look at when predicting a presidential election?

JPB: I prefer taking a fundamentals-based approach: look at the economy, look at national conditions. And by far the best method for looking at this fundamentals-based approach was a system developed by Professor Allan J. Lichtman called the Keys to the White House. When forecasting a presidential election, I start with the Keys. This system consists of 13 diagnostic keys, in which the incumbent party is evaluated according to its political strength, its performance in the White House during that presidential term, and the personalities of the presidential candidates are also evaluated. And these 13 diagnostic keys are phrased in terms of statements, which can either be true or false. So if eight or more of these statements are true, the incumbent wins reelection, the incumbent party. If six or more of the keys are false, the incumbent party loses. And so we can talk about those keys, but that's my starting point. And once I look at the keys, then I move on and look at other methods: fundamentals-based methods, poll aggregators, etc....

Is it surprising at all that the keys are predicting Biden? What's the case for Biden winning this election?

JPB: Well, first and foremost, he's the incumbent president. Like you mentioned earlier, incumbents have a high win percentage. Even those who are considered weak sometimes manage to squeak by. It’s a very powerful position to be in. Few incumbents get defeated for reelection, and when they do, it's because there’s been some kind of disaster on their watch. That's the main reason. The second is Democrats are unified behind their incumbent. So another important predictor is whether the incumbent party is unified behind their incumbent president. Remember Reagan's challenge to Gerald Ford, Ted Kennedy's challenge to Jimmy Carter. If there's a strong challenge to the president, the president's almost certainly doomed to defeat....

April 5, 2024 tweet from Michael Luo reading, "For the first time in  @newyorker 's history, we are publishing a courtroom sketch as our cover. Jane Rosenberg was one of three approved sketch artists in the courtroom for the arraignment of Donald J. Trump. Preview of next week's issue."

Are Republicans unified behind Trump? There's one narrative in which Trump did really well in the primaries—he wrapped it up really quickly. There's another narrative in which, actually, he did pretty badly for someone who is effectively the incumbent party leader, and there's this steady opposition to him, even without anyone really opposing him anymore. Which do you think is the more accurate description of what's happening?

JPB: My impression is the Republican Party has shrunk a bit thanks to Trump. So what is left is probably more loyal to Trump, but there are fewer voters, Republican voters. He won pretty handily the Republican nomination, but I think you can make the argument both ways. Clearly, he's in full control of the Republican Party, so, in that sense, yes, they are unified. But Republicans, at least at the top of the presidential level, they're going to hemorrhage voters because a lot of people do not want to vote for a convicted felon, which looks likely right now.

Do you think he'll be convicted before the election?

JPB: In the hush money trial, yeah, I do. I don't know whether any of the other trials will reach a verdict. Maybe one other will go to trial before the election, but may not get to the point where there will be a verdict. But I think in one of the trials, I would be surprised if he weren't convicted....

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Another question I have is—we've mentioned abortion—how do you think abortion is going to affect this election? One thing is that it's going to be on the ballot in some key states. Do you think that could change the calculus for who wins the presidency?

JPB: Well, it's going to be on the ballot in Florida, right?

It's going to be on the ballot in Florida. Democrats seem to think that Florida is in play. I'm still guessing that Biden probably doesn't win Florida.

JPB: I would agree with that, but it does put it in play. So we'd have to see which states are actually going to have referenda.

A big one is probably Arizona.

JPB: You're right. Yes.

It’s not on the ballot yet, but there are plenty of signatures. And the Arizona court just ruled that an 1864 law banning abortion will now go into effect—banning it completely—which is very, very unpopular. A lot of people will turn out to vote in a referendum changing that rule. Clearly, that's going to happen. There's always some split voting. Not everyone, not all of those will be Biden voters. But I think that makes it very likely that Biden wins Arizona. And Arizona has a good chance of being the tipping point state, the last state that Biden needs to put him over 270 electoral votes. I think he might be likely to win Arizona anyway. But that's potentially a pretty big factor.

JPB: I agree with you. I think even without abortion issue in Arizona, I think Biden probably would have pulled it off. But with abortion as a major voting issue in that state, I think, he could win by a larger margin and also bring in the senator, Ruben Gallego—well, he's not senator yet, he's a representative running for the Senate seat in Arizona. From what I've read, he seems to be a very skillful politician, leans slightly progressive, will probably run against a MAGA Republican, Kari Lake.

April 22, 2024 Bluesky post from States Newsroom reading, "Some Idaho physicians now advise pregnant patients, or those trying to become pregnant, to purchase memberships with medical air transport companies to avoid potentially significant costs if they need transport out of state for care in an emergency."

What do you think of the chances that Democrats hold on to the Senate?

JPB: Well, here's the conventional wisdom. Democrats have a really bad map. And then you have the decline of split ticket voting, which puts Montana, Ohio—West Virginia is lost to the Democrats, we've agreed on that—but Montana and Ohio on the verge of being lost. I think what that ignores is what you brought up. The candidates who are running for the Democrats in these battleground states, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Montana, and Ohio, they're actually very strong candidates. In the case of Montana and Ohio—Sherrod Brown, he's running for reelection, what, his second or third time now? Ohio has been trending red for a long time and he still wins. Jon Tester, I remember there was a poll showing that he was the most popular senator compared to all the other senators—or near the top—most popular in their home state. So he has some advantages. Now you're telling me that his challenger, Tim Sheehy, I believe—

Yeah, Sheehy.

JPB: He's going through some scandals. For me, that's a red flag that he's not ready for primetime and he's probably going to lose, although like you said, Montana is very red. It's redder than Ohio, so I wouldn't bet on Jon Tester winning, but—well, I would bet on Jon Tester winning, I just wouldn't bet a lot of money on it. Let's put it that way.

So if you had even odds, which side of that bet are you on?

JPB: Even odds, I would give the Democrats a slightly better than even chance, believe it or not. I think there's a good chance they'll run the table. I think the one race that I'm looking at that might be a loss is—and this could be a stretch given how blue the state is—is Maryland....

March 22, 2024 tweet from G Elliott Morris reading, "My best guess from our polling model is that Kennedy is pulling slightly more support from Biden than Trump, costing Biden about 0.1 points net in the toplines. Not a huge effect (caveat: right now), but large enough to play spoiler in a close state (& thus the Electoral College)."

Is policy really what drives people to vote for someone like RFK? To me, he's at the far end of the horseshoe, where you’re not sure if he's conservative or liberal.

JPB: I think that people who vote third party—you make a good point—third party candidates are a vessel for people who are dissatisfied with the incumbents. Like when Ross Perot ran, were they really voting for him because of his key issue, which was balancing the budget, or were they just dissatisfied with George H.W. Bush and didn't like Clinton enough to vote for him? So there was another option there. But for those on the left flank of Biden, for whom Gaza is a voting issue, I think they would know enough about RFK's position to not vote for him. I've looked at some of the polls and they've been all over the map. Some polls suggest that he takes from Biden and Trump equally. Some suggest that he hurts Biden more than Trump. But then I remember reading one in which it's obvious he takes more voters from Trump, so I don't know how that's going to shape up. I really don't. I would be surprised if he maintains double digits through the summer. I think his support should go down to the mid or high single digits by then.

Yeah, it's interesting because I think that in some ways you'd say this year offers a real opportunity for a third party candidate. There are a lot of what they call “double haters,” people who are dissatisfied with both candidates. No Labels couldn't capitalize on that because they were trying to find someone who reflects the old, somewhat economically conservative, somewhat socially liberal previous consensus. That's not where voters are. But the reason I don't think that RFK can capitalize on it is he's just too much of a crank. And you could say, sure, Trump was a crank too. But Trump is a very gifted, charismatic crank. I think people are going to look at RFK and his support is going to drop. I just do.

JPB: I also want to mention, if you look at how third parties have done in the past and where they've gotten their votes from, really most of the time, the people who vote third party would simply just stay home if that party wasn't on the ballot. That's true of Jill Stein in 2016. I know the narrative is that she helped cost Hillary Clinton the election by winning more votes in Michigan than the margin of difference or something of that sort. But, honestly, I think I remember there were exit polls showing that the vast majority of Jill Stein voters would have simply stayed home rather than vote for either candidate. And I think that's generally true also of the Libertarian Party voters. Ralph Nader voters back in the day, and even Ross Perot, I believe, took almost equally from Clinton and Bush. I know Republicans blame Perot for costing their guy the election, but if he took more voters from Bush than Clinton, it was a marginal difference. I think what third parties when they poll high, what it shows is that there's a lot of discontent for the incumbent. So I think they just reveal the weakness in the incumbent party more than hurt them directly by siphoning votes from them. So it's more of an indicator than that they're taking votes from us and they're going to cost us the election. It would be different if it was really a direct split in the incumbent party or the challenging party, but it's been a long time since we've seen one of the major parties split off like that. The third parties, this election cycle as in most, are really just vessels for disaffected people who are otherwise going to stay home. That's really how I think.

Our Forecasts
  • chance the Democratic presidential nominee wins 90% (Jean-Pierre) 75% (Robert)

  • chance Democrats retain control of the Senate 60% (Jean-Pierre) 32% (Robert)

  • chance Democrats win control of the House 95% (Jean-Pierre) 75% (Robert)

You can find previous episodes of Talking About the Future here.

recently profiled brilliant superforecaster Elan Pavlov, who advises forecasters to—in the words of Oliver Cromwell—“consider that you may be mistaken.” is publishing his Forecasting substack again, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in what’s happening in the forecasting community. If you enjoyed this podcast, please give it a good review and share it with others. If you’d like me to make more podcasts like this, please support my work by buying a paid subscription to Telling the Future.


April 18, 2024 Bluesky post from Demsoc Nucky Thompson reading, "Oh so I guess it’s suddenly a 'crime' to tamper with a jury."
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