Annals of Improbable Research Online (October 20, 2003)

 

An Algorithm for Determining the Winners of U.S. Presidential Elections

 

Daniel Debowy

New York University School of Medicine, New York, New York

 

Eric Schulman

Alexandria, Virginia

 

 

Abstract

      We present an algorithm for determining the winners of United States presidential elections, based on the previous experience of the major party candidates for President and Vice President. The algorithm correctly determines the winner of each of the 54 U.S. presidential elections between 1789 and 2000. Our algorithm predicts that President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney will win the 2004 election unless:

the Democratic nominee for President is Howard B. Dean,

the Democratic nominee for President is Wesley K. Clark and the Democratic nominee for Vice President has been Vice President for at least two years, a governor for at least five years, or a U.S. Representative for at least five years,

the Democratic nominee for President is Richard A. Gephardt and the Democratic nominee for Vice President is a banker, a college or university chancellor or president, or the child of a U.S. Senator, or

the Democratic nominee for Vice President is Albert A. Gore, Jr. or John D. Rockefeller, IV, and the Democratic nominee for President has not been divorced, has not been a special prosecutor, and is a Protestant, Deist, or Catholic.

Although any of the currently declared Democratic candidates for President could, in theory, win in 2004 if they carefully choose their vice presidential candidates, in practice it would be difficult for many of them to find candidates for Vice President with the right combination of governmental and non-governmental experience.

 

1. Introduction

    Throughout the history of the United States, politicians have attempted to determine the likelihood of one candidate or another winning a presidential election. Schulman (2001) presented an algorithm that purported to do just that for the presidential elections since 1932. Their algorithm depended on the number of years the candidates had served as President, Vice President, U. S. Senator, U. S. Representative, and Governor. It also took into account whether the candidate had been Director of Central Intelligence, a general officer in the United States Armed Forces, and/or had ordered the combat use of nuclear weapons. Although their formula correctly predicted the winners of the U.S. presidential elections between 1932 and 2000, it did not correctly predict the winners of all the U.S. presidential elections between 1789 and 1928. Schulman (2001) obviously believed that U.S. presidential elections over the last 70 years are not typical of all U.S. presidential elections. We disagree with that conclusion, and in this paper present an algorithm that correctly determines the winners of every U.S. presidential election between 1789 and 2000.

 

2. Methods and Results

    We analyzed the experience of the major party candidates for President and Vice President in each of the U. S. Presidential elections since 1804, and the experience of the two top candidates for President in 1789, 1792, 1796, and 1800 (when the candidate who received the most electoral votes became President, and the candidate who received the next largest share of electoral votes became Vice President). We discovered the following empirical formula after an extensive phase space search:

Presidential Electability = 5*(years as President) + years as U.S. Representative + 11*(years as Governor),

+110 if the candidate has been a four- or five-star general officer in the United States Armed Forces,

+110 if the candidate has been a college or university president or chancellor,

+110 if the candidate is the child of a U.S. Senator,

–110 if the candidate has been divorced,

–110 if the candidate has been a special prosecutor,

–110 if the candidate was the first adherent of a particular religion (e.g., Protestantism, Deism, or Catholicism) to be a major-party candidate for President,

–110 if the candidate was an officer of a lobbying organization at the time of the election.

 

Vice Presidential Electability = 4*(years as Vice President) + years as U.S. Representative + years as Governor,

+110 if the candidate has been a corporate banker,

+110 if the candidate has been a college or university president or chancellor,

+110 if the candidate is the child of a U.S. Senator,

–110 if the candidate was the first adherent of a particular religion (e.g., Protestantism, Deism, Catholicism, or Judaism) to be a major-party candidate for Vice President,

–110 if the candidate was an officer of a lobbying organization at the time of the election.

Total Electability = Presidential Electability + Vice Presidential Electability.

Years in office is equal to the number of years the candidate served in a particular office, rounded up as long as the partial year service was one month or more, unless the candidate moved directly from one public office to another, in which case the office in which the candidate spent a larger fraction of their time during that year receives credit for the year. Years of service for federal offices were verified using the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress and years of service for governor were verified using the relevant state websites. In each U. S. presidential election between 1789 and 2000, the candidates with the higher total electability won, as seen in Table 1 below. Note that the electorate doesn’t appear to care one way or the other how long a candidate has served as a U.S. Senator, but we included that information in Table 1 for completeness.

Table 1. United States Presidential Elections, 1789 to 2000

Year

Candidate

Pres.

V.P.

Sen.

Rep.

Gov.

Other

Total

1789

George Washington

0

0

0

0

0

College Chancellor1

110

110

John Adams

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1792

George Washington

4

0

0

0

0

College Chancellor1

110

130

John Adams

0

4

0

0

0

 

0

0

1796

John Adams

0

8

0

0

0

 

0

0

Thomas Jefferson

0

0

0

0

2

First Deist

-110

-88

1800

Thomas Jefferson

0

4

0

0

2

 

0

22

John Adams

4

8

0

0

0

 

0

20

1804

Thomas Jefferson

4

4

0

0

2

 

0

42

64

    George Clinton

0

0

0

0

22

 

0

22

Charles C. Pinckney

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

0

    Rufus King

0

0

7

0

0

 

0

0

1808

James Madison

0

0

0

8

0

 

0

8

46

    George Clinton

0

4

0

0

22

 

0

38

Charles C. Pinckney

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

0

    Rufus King

0

0

7

0

0

 

0

0

1812

James Madison

4

0

0

8

0

 

0

28

34

    Elbridge Gerry

0

0

0

4

2

 

0

6

DeWitt Clinton

0

0

2

0

0

 

0

0

0

    Jared Ingersoll

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1816

James Monroe

0

0

4

0

4

 

0

44

54

    Daniel D. Tompkins

0

0

0

0

10

 

0

10

Rufus King

0

0

11

0

0

 

0

0

3

    John E. Howard

0

0

7

0

3

 

0

3

1820

James Monroe

4

0

4

0

4

 

0

64

90

    Daniel D. Tompkins

0

4

0

0

10

 

0

26

John Q. Adams

0

0

6

0

0

 

0

0

2

    Richard Stockton

0

0

3

2

0

 

0

2

1824

John Q. Adams

0

0

6

0

0

 

0

0

7

    John C. Calhoun

0

0

0

7

0

 

0

7

Andrew Jackson

0

0

3

1

0

 

0

1

1

    Nathan Sanford

0

0

6

0

0

 

0

0

1828

Andrew Jackson

0

0

4

1

0

 

0

1

24

    John C. Calhoun

0

4

0

7

0

 

0

23

John Q. Adams

4

0

6

0

0

 

0

20

20

    Richard Rush

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1832

Andrew Jackson

4

0

4

1

0

 

0

21

22

    Martin Van Buren

0

0

8

0

1

 

0

1

Henry Clay

0

0

5

11

0

 

0

11

21

    John Sergeant

0

0

0

10

0

 

0

10

1836

Martin Van Buren

0

4

8

0

1

 

0

11

31

    Richard M. Johnson

0

0

10

20

0

 

0

20

William H. Harrison

0

0

4

5

0

 

0

5

7

    Francis Granger

0

0

0

2

0

 

0

2

1840

William H. Harrison

0

0

4

5

0

 

0

5

121

    John Tyler

0

0

9

4

2

College Chancellor2

110

116

Martin Van Buren

4

4

8

0

1

 

0

31

67

    Richard M. Johnson

0

4

10

20

0

 

0

36

1844

James K. Polk

0

0

0

14

2

 

0

36

36

    George M. Dallas

0

0

3

0

0

 

0

0

Henry Clay

0

0

14

11

0

Lobbying Org. Officer3

-110

-99

11

    Theodore Frelinghuysen

0

0

6

0

0

Lobby+Univ.+Sen. Son4

110

110

1848

Zachary Taylor

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

8

    Millard Fillmore

0

0

0

8

0

 

0

8

Lewis Cass

0

0

4

0

0

 

0

0

4

    William O. Butler

0

0

0

4

0

 

0

4

1852

Franklin Pierce

0

0

5

4

0

 

0

4

10

    William R. King

0

0

30

6

0

 

0

6

Winfield Scott

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

4

    William A. Graham

0

0

3

0

4

 

0

4

1856

James Buchanan

0

0

11

10

0

 

0

10

14

    John C. Breckinridge

0

0

0

4

0

 

0

4

John C. Frémont

0

0

1

0

0

 

0

0

0

    William L. Dayton

0

0

9

0

0

 

0

0

1860

Abraham Lincoln

0

0

0

2

0

 

0

2

7

    Hannibal Hamlin

0

0

13

4

1

 

0

5

John C. Breckenridge

0

4

0

4

0

 

0

4

4

    Joseph Lane

0

0

2

0

0


0

0

1864

Abraham Lincoln

4

0

0

2

0

 

0

22

36

    Andrew Johnson

0

0

5

10

4

 

0

14

George B. McClellan

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

8

    George H. Pendleton

0

0

0

8

0

 

0

8

1868

Ulysses S. Grant

0

0

0

0

0

General5

110

110

124

    Schuyler Colfax

0

0

0

14

0

 

0

14

Horatio Seymour

0

0

0

0

4

 

0

44

50

    Francis P. Blair, Jr.

0

0

0

6

0

 

0

6

1872

Ulysses S. Grant

4

0

0

0

0

General5

110

130

130

    Henry Wilson

0

0

19

0

0

 

0

0

Horace Greeley

0

0

0

1

0

 

0

1

3

    B. Gratz Brown

0

0

4

0

2

 

0

2

1876

Rutherford B. Hayes

0

0

0

3

6

 

0

69

189

    William A. Wheeler

0

0

0

10

0

Banker6

110

120

Samuel J. Tilden

0

0

0

0

2

 

0

22

30

    Thomas A. Hendricks

0

0

6

4

4

 

0

8

1880

James A. Garfield

0

0

0

18

0

College President7

110

128

128

    Chester A. Arthur

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

Winfield S. Hancock

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

8

    William H. English

0

0

0

8

0

 

0

8

1884

Grover Cleveland

0

0

0

0

2

 

0

22

30

    Thomas A. Hendricks

0

0

6

4

4

 

0

8

James G. Blaine

0

0

5

14

0

 

0

14

21

    John A. Logan

0

0

12

7

0

 

0

7

1888

Benjamin Harrison

0

0

6

0

0

 

0

0

112

    Levi P. Morton

0

0

0

2

0

Banker8

110

112

Grover Cleveland

4

0

0

0

2

 

0

42

44

    Allen G. Thurman

0

0

12

2

0

 

0

2

1892

Grover Cleveland

4

0

0

0

2

 

0

42

46

    Adlai E. Stevenson

0

0

0

4

0

 

0

4

Benjamin Harrison

4

0

6

0

0

 

0

20

20

    Whitelaw Reid

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1896

William McKinley

0

0

0

14

4

 

0

58

58

    Garret A. Hobart

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

William J. Bryan

0

0

0

4

0

 

0

4

-106

    Arthur Sewall

0

0

0

0

0

First  Swedenborgian

-110

0

1900

William McKinley

4

0

0

14

4

 

0

78

80

    Theodore Roosevelt

0

0

0

0

2

 

0

2

William J. Bryan

0

0

0

4

0

 

0

4

24

    Adlai E. Stevenson

0

4

0

4

0

 

0

20

1904

Theodore Roosevelt

3

1

0

0

2

 

0

37

37

    Charles W. Fairbanks

0

0

8

0

0

 

0

0

Alton B. Parker

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

-110

    Henry G. Davis

0

0

12

0

0

Lobbying Org. Officer9

-110

-110

1908

William H. Taft

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

20

    James S. Sherman

0

0

0

20

0

 

0

20

William J. Bryan

0

0

0

4

0

 

0

4

4

    John W. Kern

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1912

T. Woodrow Wilson

0

0

0

0

2

University President10

110

132

136

    Thomas R. Marshall

0

0

0

0

4

 

0

4

William H. Taft

4

0

0

0

0

 

0

20

130

    Nicholas M. Butler

0

0

0

0

0

University President11

110

110

1916

T. Woodrow Wilson

4

0

0

0

2

University President10

110

152

172

    Thomas R. Marshall

0

4

0

0

4

 

0

20

Charles E. Hughes

0

0

0

0

4

 

0

44

60

    Charles W. Fairbanks

0

4

8

0

0

 

0

16

1920

Warren G. Harding

0

0

6

0

0

 

0

0

2

    Calvin Coolidge

0

0

0

0

2

 

0

2

James M. Cox

0

0

0

4

6

Divorced12

-110

-40

-40

    Franklin D. Roosevelt

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1924

Calvin Coolidge

2

2

0

0

2

 

0

32

142

    Charles G. Dawes

0

0

0

0

0

Banker13

110

110

John W. Davis

0

0

0

3

0

 

0

3

5

    Charles W. Bryan

0

0

0

0

2

 

0

2

1928

Herbert C. Hoover

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

14

    Charles Curtis

0

0

21

14

0

 

0

14

Alfred E. Smith

0

0

0

0

8

First Catholic

-110

-22

-11

    Joseph T. Robinson

0

0

16

10

1

 

0

11

1932

Franklin D. Roosevelt

0

0

0

0

4

 

0

44

74

    John N. Garner

0

0

0

30

0

 

0

30

Herbert C. Hoover

4

0

0

0

0

 

0

20

50

    Charles Curtis

0

4

21

14

0

 

0

30

1936

Franklin D. Roosevelt

4

0

0

0

4

 

0

64

110

    John N. Garner

0

4

0

30

0

 

0

46

Alfred M. Landon

0

0

0

0

4

 

0

44

44

 

    Frank Knox

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1940

Franklin D. Roosevelt

8

0

0

0

4

 

0

84

84

    Henry A. Wallace

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

Wendell L. Wilkie

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

0

    Charles L. McNary

0

0

25

0

0

 

0

0

1944

Franklin D. Roosevelt

12

0

0

0

4

 

0

104

104

    Harry S Truman

0

0

12

0

0

 

0

0

Thomas E. Dewey

0

0

0

0

2

Special Prosecutor14

-110

-88

-82

    John W. Bricker

0

0

0

0

6

 

0

6

1948

Harry S Truman

4

0

12

0

0

 

0

20

34

    Alben W. Barkley

0

0

22

14

0

 

0

14

Thomas E. Dewey

0

0

0

0

6

Special Prosecutor14

-110

-44

-38

    Earl Warren

0

0

0

0

6

 

0

6

1952

Dwight D. Eisenhower

0

0

0

0

0

General + Univ. Pres.15

220

220

224

    Richard M. Nixon

0

0

3

4

0

 

0

4

Adlai E. Stevenson II

0

0

0

0

4

Divorced16

-110

-66

-56

    John J. Sparkman

0

0

6

10

0

 

0

10

1956

Dwight D. Eisenhower

4

0

0

0

0

General + Univ. Pres.15

220

240

260

    Richard M. Nixon

0

4

3

4

0

 

0

20

Adlai E. Stevenson II

0

0

0

0

4

Divorced16

-110

-66

-56

    C. Estes Kefauver

0

0

8

10

0

 

0

10

1960

John F. Kennedy

0

0

8

6

0

 

0

6

18

    Lyndon B. Johnson

0

0

12

12

0

 

0

12

Richard M. Nixon

0

8

3

4

0

 

0

4

4

    Henry C. Lodge, Jr.

0

0

14

0

0

 

0

0

1964

Lyndon B. Johnson

1

3

12

12

0

 

0

17

17

    Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr.

0

0

16

0

0

 

0

0

Barry M. Goldwater

0

0

12

0

0

 

0

0

-96

    William E. Miller

0

0

0

14

0

First Catholic17

-110

-96

1968

Richard M. Nixon

0

8

3

4

0

 

0

4

6

    Spiro T. Agnew

0

0

0

0

2

 

0

2

Hubert H. Humphrey, Jr.

0

4

16

0

0

 

0

0

4

    Edmund S. Muskie

0

0

10

0

4

 

0

4

1972

Richard M. Nixon

4

8

3

4

0

 

0

24

42

    Spiro T. Agnew

0

4

0

0

2

 

0

18

George S. McGovern

0

0

10

4

0

 

0

4

4

    R. Sargent Shriver, Jr.

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

1976

James E. Carter, Jr.

0

0

0

0

4

 

0

44

44

    Walter F. Mondale

0

0

12

0

0

 

0

0

Gerald R. Ford, Jr.

2

1

0

25

0

 

0

35

43

    Robert J. Dole

0

0

8

8

0

 

0

8

1980

Ronald W. Reagan

0

0

0

0

8

Divorced18

-110

-22

92

    George H. W. Bush

0

0

0

4

0

Son of Senator19

110

114

James E. Carter, Jr.

4

0

0

0

4

 

0

64

80

    Walter F. Mondale

0

4

12

0

0

 

0

16

1984

Ronald W. Reagan

4

0

0

0

8

Divorced18

-110

-2

128

    George H. W. Bush

0

4

0

4

0

Son of Senator19

110

130

Walter F. Mondale

0

4

12

0

0

 

0

0

6

    Geraldine A. Ferraro

0

0

0

6

0

 

0

6

1988

George H. W. Bush

0

8

0

4

0

Son of Senator19

110

114

118

    J. Danforth Quayle

0

0

8

4

0

 

0

4

Michael S. Dukakis

0

0

0

0

10

First Greek Orthodox

-110

110

6

    Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr.

0

0

18

6

0

 

0

6

1992

William J. Clinton

0

0

0

0

12

 

0

132

250

    Albert A. Gore, Jr.

0

0

8

8

0

Son of Senator20

110

118

George H. W. Bush

4

8

0

4

0

Son of Senator18

110

134

154

    J. Danforth Quayle

0

4

8

4

0

 

0

20

1996

William J. Clinton

4

0

0

0

12

 

0

152

286

    Albert A. Gore, Jr.

0

4

8

8

0

Son of Senator20

110

134

Robert J. Dole

0

0

28

8

0

 

0

8

26

    Jack F. Kemp

0

0

0

18

0

 

0

18

2000

George W. Bush

0

0

0

0

6

 

0

66

77

    Richard B. Cheney

0

0

0

11

0

 

0

11

Albert A. Gore, Jr.

0

8

8

8

0

Son of Senator20

110

118

8

    Joseph I. Lieberman

0

0

12

0

0

First Jew

-110

-110

  1 George Washington was chancellor of the College of William and Mary between 1788 and 1799. In 1976, he was posthumously appointed to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by Public Law 94-479.

  2 John Tyler was chancellor of the College of William and Mary.

  3 Henry Clay was president of the American Colonization Society.

  4 Theodore Frelinghuysen was vice president of the American Colonization Society, chancellor of New York University, and the son of Senator Frederick Frelinghuysen.

  5 Ulysses S. Grant was appointed to the grade of General of the Army in 1866.

  6 William A. Wheeler managed the Bank of Malone.

  8 James A. Garfield was president of Hiram College.

  8 Levi P. Morton founded the banking firm of Levi P. Morton and Company.

  9 Henry G. Davis was chairman of the permanent Pan American Railway Committee.

10 T. Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton University.

11 Nicholas M. Butler was president of Columbia University.

12 James M. Cox was divorced in 1912.

13 Charles G. Dawes was director of the American Exchange National Bank and the author of The Banking System of the United States and Its Relation to the Money and Business of the Country.

14 Thomas E. Dewey was appointed special prosecutor for a grand jury investigation of racketeering in New York City in 1935.

15 Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed General of the Army in 1944 and was president of Columbia University.

16 Adlai E. Stevenson II was divorced in 1949.

17 Although Joseph Lane was a Catholic, he converted to Catholicism seven years after he ran for Vice President in 1860.

18 Ronald W. Reagan was divorced in 1952.

19 George H. W. Bush is the son of Senator Prescott S. Bush.

20 Albert A. Gore, Jr. is the son of Senator Albert A. Gore.

 

3. Discussion

A presidential electability algorithm is of little use if it cannot predict the results of future elections. In this section, we apply the algorithm to the 2004 presidential election. Table 2 below shows the presidential electabilities of the nine currently declared candidates for the 2004 Democratic nomination for president.

 

Table 2. Presidential Electability of the Nine Declared Democratic Candidates for President in 2004

Candidate

Pres.

V.P.

Sen.

Rep.

Gov.

Other

Total

Howard B. Dean

0

0

0

0

12

 

0

132

Wesley K. Clark

0

0

0

0

0

General

110

110

Richard A. Gephardt

0

0

0

28

0

 

0

28

Johnny R. Edwards

0

0

6

0

0

 

0

0

Alfred Sharpton

0

0

0

0

0

 

0

0

Dennis J. Kucinich

0

0

0

8

0

Divorced

-110

-102

John F. Kerry

0

0

20

0

0

Divorced

-110

-110

Carol Moseley-Braun

0

0

6

0

0

Divorced

-110

-110

Joseph I. Lieberman

0

0

16

0

0

Divorced, First Jew

-220

-220

 

    As can be seen in Table 2 above, the most electable Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 are Howard B. Dean, Wesley K. Clark, and Richard A. Gephardt. In order to defeat President George W. Bush (electability of 86 in 2004) and Vice President Richard B. Cheney (electability of 27 in 2004), the 2004 Democratic ticket will need to have a total electability of more than 113. They could achieve this by nominating Howard B. Dean for President, or Wesley K. Clark for President and someone for Vice President who has been Vice President for at least two years, a governor for at least five years, or a U.S. Representative for at least five years. Alternately, they could nominate Richard A. Gephardt for President and a banker, a college or university chancellor or president, or the child of a senator for Vice President. Two examples from the Clinton Administration are Larry Summers (president of Harvard University) and Donna Shalala (Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison). Another alternative would be to nominate Albert A. Gore, Jr. as Vice President (vice presidential electability of 150 in 2004) and Johnny R. Edwards or Alfred Sharpton as President. There is historical precedent for Vice Presidents running for Vice President after not having been Vice President (Adlai E. Stevenson ran for Vice President in 1900 after having been Vice President between 1893 and 1897 and Charles W. Fairbanks ran for Vice President in 1916 after having been Vice President between 1905 and 1909). Johnny R. Edwards or Alfred Sharpton could also win by choosing John D. Rockefeller, IV, as a running mate (he was president of West Virginia Wesleyan College and then governor of West Virginia for eight years before being elected to the United States Senate; vice presidential electability of 118 in 2004).

    Schulman (2003) used the algorithm of Schulman (2001) to predict that either Howard B. Dean or Wesley K. Clark could defeat George W. Bush in 2004. As seen above, our more sophisticated algorithm indicates that any of the currently declared Democratic presidential candidates could in theory win the 2004 presidential election, provided they chose their vice presidential candidate wisely. However, Dennis J. Kucinich would need to choose someone who has been a banker and a college or university president or chancellor, or a college or university president or chancellor and the child of a U.S. Senator, or the child of a U.S. Senator and a banker. John F. Kerry or Carol Moseley-Braun would need to chose someone who has been a governor and/or a U.S. Representative for at least five years, who has been a banker and a college or university president or chancellor, or a college or university president or chancellor and the child of a U.S. Senator, or the child of a U.S. Senator and a banker. Joseph I. Lieberman would need to choose someone who has been a governor and/or U.S. Representative for at least five years, who is the child of a U.S. Senator, who has been a banker, and who has been a college or university president or chancellor. The existence of such a person is left as an exercise for the Lieberman campaign.

 

References

    Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, http://bioguide.congress.gov.

    Dawes, Charles G. 1894, The Banking System of the United States and Its Relation to the Money and Business of the Country (Chicago: Rand McNally).

    Schulman, Eric. 2001, "Who Will Win the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election?" Annals of Improbably Research, Vol. 7, No. 1, pg. 26.

    Schulman, Eric. 2003, "Who Should Win the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election?" Annals of Improbable Research Online (June 30).