The Bread and Peace model is perhaps the most successful long term presidential model in United States electoral history. It was developed by Dr. Douglas Hibbs at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
The model is derived explicitly from fundamentals only. It doesn’t bother with the polling, and it doesn’t focus on anything besides Real Personal Income Growth, an economic metric, and the number of American casualties in foreign wars.
We ran it with the latest data, and it says that Obama is set to get only 47.2 per cent of the popular vote in November.
Photo: Douglas Hibbs
That’s it. Derived from the presidential elections of the latter half of the 20th Century, the model explains why some presidents lose and why other presidents win. It’s been eerily successful at predicting elections.If it’s right this round, President Obama is pretty much toast.
The model says that for each percentage point growth in Real Personal Income per capita – weighted so that recent changes have a stronger impact that earlier events – the popular vote percentage garnered by an incumbent increases 3.6 per cent.
If Real Personal Income per capita grows 2 per cent over a term, the president’s popular vote per cent goes up 7.2 per cent. If weighted RPI per capita goes down 2 per cent, the incumbent president’s share of the popular vote decreases by 7.2 per cent.
The second variable — American casualties in wars started by the U.S. — quantifies the impact of wars like Vietnam and Korea have on the electorate. With the latest information on U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, the model isn’t significantly impacted.
Over Obama’s term, 1,439 servicemembers were killed in Afghanistan. By our calculation there were only 4.6 Americans killed for every million Americans. In the model, that means Obama lost 0.2 points on the popular vote, altogether negligible. That variable was most significant during the Truman and Johnson elections, due to the high death tolls of the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
Photo: Douglas Hibbs
So, as expected, this election is all about the economy.
In the past, the model predicted the re-election losses of Carter and George H.W. Bush, each devastated by the faltering economy. In those elections, the weighted Real Personal Income per Capita was either negative or nearly zero.
It also cemented the re-election victories of Reagan, Nixon, and first term LBJ. Each of those men were buoyed by an exceptional growth of weighted Real Personal Income — each more than 3.5 per cent!. Inherited wars are not included in re-election campaigns in the model.
Also interesting is the observation of party turnover after 1952 and 2008. The open race had the incumbent party losing because of either Korea in ’52 or the economy in ’08.
Here is the chart of quarterly Real Personal Income per Capita going back to 1959:
You’ll see that it’s relatively consistent on the rise, with an average growth rate of 1.8 per cent. During recessions, that growth rate slows and the Bread & Peace model responds accordingly, costing the President his job.
Here is the chart of quarterly Real Personal Income per Capita in the past several quarters:
That right there is killing President Obama in the Bread and Peace model.
This chart shows what the President’s re-election popular vote would be at these points in his term if RPI per capita froze:
But here’s what should really terrify Democrats. Right now, if the economy is stagnant in this quarter, the President’s popular vote share will be 47.2 per cent. That’s an electoral loss.
If the economy continues on pace this quarter and Real Personal Income per capita grows as it did in the last quarter, Obama’s popular vote will be 47.9 per cent, likewise losing him the election.
Here are the numbers: The first is a potential third quarter 2012 Real Personal Income per capita. The Second column is the per cent change from Q2. The third is the weighted, cumulative Obama number. The last row is the presidential popular vote.
Q3 RDPIChange from Q2Final Cumulative ValuePresident Popular Vote32114 -2.0% -0.651 43.1 32441 -1.0% -0.140 45.0 32769 0.0% 0.366 46.8 33097 1.0% 0.867 48.6 33424 2.0% 1.364 50.4 33752 3.0% 1.855 52.1 34080 4.0% 2.342 53.9 34407 5.0% 2.824 55.6 33350 1.8% 1.251 50.0The President needs Real Personal Income Growth to hit 33,350 this quarter —which it almost certainly won’t — in order to break 50 per cent.
What does this all mean? Well, the Bread and Peace model wasn’t intended to be a long-term predictive model, but rather to explain why an election went the way it did. We can view hypothetical situations, but only in the very short term.
If the President outperforms the model it won’t be because of the strength of the economy. Were people to vote with their wallets this round, the president would lose by a hair.
But still, short of an economic miracle or massive revisions upward, Obama is toast.
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