Bush’s Good Week

After enduring a number of setbacks during a difficult spring, President Bush appears to be in the midst of a rebound. The economic news is good, the news from Iraq shows some improvement, and the President’s schedule has provided him several opportunities to focus public attention on his campaign theme of “providing strong leadership for America”.

As a result, the President’s poll numbers have risen slightly and one prominent pundit, who has developed a scientific model that has correctly predicted the outcome of every election since 1984, now says that Bush appears to be a likely winner in November.

Just one month ago, Bush was in the midst of a string of setbacks. A series of books had been published revealing embarrassing information about his presidency. The 9/11 commission provided a number of damaging challenges to the Administration. And the Abu Ghraib scandal, coupled with an insurgent driven unraveling of the military situation in Iraq-all combined to deliver serious blows to Bush’s leadership image.

But the news has improved. The U.S. economy continues to grow. The Administration was boosted by news last week that the U.S. added almost one million news jobs in the past four months.

News from Iraq has also been somewhat more comforting. More flexible American tactics have provided at least short term solutions to the Fallujah insurrection and the possibility of a settlement to the Sadr rebellion.

Although the plan for the selection of Iraq’s interim government didn’t unfold as anticipated, the U.S.’s new flexibility put the Administration in the position of being able to embrace the outcome and call it a victory. Evidence of this was on display last week as a confident President Bush appeared in the White House Rose Garden delivering an upbeat message of Iraq now on a track for democracy. That address, coupled with Bush’s appearance at the official commemoration of Washington’s new World War II memorial, other Memorial Day activities, and his stirring commencement address to an obviously supportive Air Force Academy graduating class, provided the President with a number of very positive media opportunities that he used with great effectiveness.

Now in the midst of a European tour, with visits to the Vatican, Rome, Paris, and culminating at a Normandy 60th D-Day anniversary commemoration, the White House is assured of several more days of positive news stories dominating the U.S. media.

All of this has had an obvious effect on the presidential race. Bush’s events have drowned out challenger John Kerry’s weeklong efforts to challenge the Bush Administration’s national security policy. A series of Kerry press events and policy speeches focusing on a range of initiatives have all been reduced to secondary stories in the face of the White House’s blitz. With this has come an uptick in public opinion polls. A few weeks ago, Bush was trailing behind Kerry in most major polls. He now holds a slight lead in many. The country is too politically divided for any major swing to occur, but the change in the White House’s fortunes has nevertheless produced measurable results.

Late last week I hosted American University professor Allan Lichtman on my Abu Dhabi TV “Viewpoint” program. Lichtman is the analyst who has developed a scientific model for predicting the outcome of presidential elections. While Lichtman has been using his model to correctly call the results of every race since 1984, he has based his approach on an analysis of the past 35 presidential contests going back to 1860. Instead of utilizing polling data, Lichtman analyzes macro trends in the economy and the society. He has identified 13 such indicators and calls them his “13 Keys”. According to Lichtman for the incumbent to win reelection, he needs to hold at least eight of these “13 Keys”. The “13 Keys” are:

– The Incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives after the midterm election;

– There is no real contest for the incumbent nomination;

– The incumbent-party is the current president;

– There is no real third-party;

– The economy is not in recession;

– Per capita economic growth is improving;

– The Administration effected major policy changes;

– There is no major social unrest;

– The incumbent is untainted by major scandal;

– There have been no major military or foreign policy failures;

– There was a major military or foreign policy success;

– The incumbent is charismatic or a national hero; and

– The challenger is not charismatic and not a national hero.

According to Lichtman’s assessment, Bush currently can claim the eight keys necessary to win. (Bush has “Keys” 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11 and 13.) The four “Keys” Bush loses are 6, 7, 10 and 12. “Key” nine is still unclear.

Since most of the “Keys” are macro, or long-term indicators, Lichtman sees little change possible with most of them. The two, however, that could change are numbers 9 and 11. If, for example, any of the currently outstanding investigations (9/11, Abu Ghraib, pre-Iraq war intelligence and the leak of a CIA agent’s identity) expand and lead directly to the White House, then Bush will lose “Key” 9. And if Iraq takes a turn for the worse and Afghanistan, the one domestically perceived foreign policy success, unravels dramatically enough to change public perception, than Bush would lose “Key” 11 and could, therefore, according to Lichtman, be in trouble.

The situation is still somewhat fluid. But, as it stands today, if Bush’s good fortune holds, his edge in the polls may remain and he could continue to hold enough “Keys” to be reelected in November.