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Predicting Elections

By Oliver DeMille

There are various methods and matrices for predicting elections, none of them infallible.

But one does come pretty close.

When an incumbent president is running for reelection, the growth rate of discretionary income citizens have during the first two quarters of the election year always accurately predicts the election.

If it increases during the first six months of the election year, the incumbent is reelected.

If not, he isn’t.

There are no exceptions to this rule in recent American history, and the rate of discretionary income so far in 2012 is decreasing. Moreover, most people feel it is seriously decreasing.

For example, though we’ve seen over two years of slight economic growth, which in technical terms means we are in a recovery, over 70% of Americans polled in April 2012 say we are still in recession.

Their discretionary income is down, and they feel it.

This is bad or good news—depending on who you want to win the presidential election in November.

Certainly the race promises to be a tough one where simple statistics won’t sway everything.

But there has yet to be an exception to this formula.

There is always the potential of some major surprise—positive or negative—in world affairs or economic events.

And even some predictable surprises are possible, like a shocking Supreme Court decision on health care, economic collapse of another European country, massive increases—or reductions—in oil prices, major mistakes by one of the candidates, a history-changing international incident, or something else.

In short, “It’s the economy, stupid…unless something unexpected happens.”

Or, maybe, it’s the economy regardless of what happens.

Because whatever happens or doesn’t happen, when most households feel their pocketbooks shrinking they want change, and the closer we get to an election, the more drastically things would have to improve in order to change their minds.

Or their votes.

Common wisdom says it’s way too early to predict who will win the 2012 race for the White House.

The thing about statistics is that they can tell us a lot about the past but are seldom deemed reliable in foretelling the future.

Calculations and forecasts have proven a poor substitute for patience.

November 6 (or whenever we actually find out for sure who won) isn’t that far away.

Still, at least a few Beltway insiders will tell you (with a smile or frown, depending on which side of the aisle they support) we are in an election year and most households are feeling the pressures of less discretionary income…

If this turns out to be the reality in yet another presidential election, as tight as the 2012 race seems to be, it will make a believer out of me.

Time will tell.


odemille 133x195 custom Egypt, Freedom, & the Cycles of HistoryOliver DeMille is the founder and former president of George Wythe University, the chairman of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.


  1. Elizabeth says

    Hello, I am intrigued by your article about predicting elections and was wondering if you would mind sharing with me your source for this statement: “and the rate of discretionary income so far in 2012 is decreasing.” I did a quick search and found that, according to the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, it seems the Disposable Personal Income, (DPI) was increasing for the first 4 months of 2012. With my very limited understanding of economics, perhaps I am wrong in equating “rate of discretionary income” with DPI. I would love more information if you have it. Thanks in advance. We have been “TJEders” for 5 years now and appreciate the valuable insights we’ve gained for our family.
    Liz Bell

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