American University Professor Says North Carolina Still a Swing State for Election 2012

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American University professor of history Allan Lichtman says the state's overwhelming vote against same-sex marriage does not indicate Romney will carry "the Old North State."

North Carolina, host to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, was key to Barack Obama winning the presidency in 2008, making him the first Democratic president since Jimmy Carter to win the “Old North State.”

But Obama’s victory in North Carolina was narrow—he won by about 14,000 votes—and the African-American vote was a central component of Obama’s success.

Now fast forward to 2012. In May, the state overwhelmingly passed a ban on same-sex marriage with 61 percent of voters in favor of the ban; 39 percent against it. That 61 percent, too, included a large number of African-American votes. The day after the ban passed, President Obama publicly announced his support of same-sex marriage, raising the question of whether Obama can count on winning the state again in 2012. Numerous early polls in North Carolina show Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the lead.

Is North Carolina still a swing state?

Most definitely, says Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C., and an expert on presidential elections.

“Same-sex marriage is clearly an unpopular issue in North Carolina,” Lichtman said. “However, it is not an important voting issue in this election. It could slightly affect turnout, but many other factors will influence turnout as well.”

Polls Unreliable; What Obama Needs to Win NC

Lichtman’s “13 Keys” system, outlined in his book Keys to the White House, has allowed him to correctly predict the outcome of every presidential election since 1984. In June 2010, he predicted that Obama will win a second term in the White House this November.

“Early polls, especially those taken before both party’s conventions are complete, do not accurately predict November results,” said Lichtman, who has likened relying on polls to determine election outcomes to reading the entrails of birds. “The polls taken in North Carolina are still generally within the margin of error, although they slightly favor Romney.”

Lichtman says factors favoring an Obama win in North Carolina include the fact that he won it in 2008 and the potential outcome of upcoming events, such as the presidential debates. But Lichtman also says Obama will again need a surge of African-American votes to carry North Carolina, and that the surge is likely to happen—even in the wake of the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

“While some African-Americans oppose same-sex marriage, that issue should not be powerful enough to deter them from turning out to vote for the nation’s first African American president,” he said. “There is also nothing in the ideas or policies of the Republican Party in North Carolina or nationwide that would appeal to African-American voters. To the contrary, African-Americans who are heavily dependent on government social programs like Medicaid are among those hurt the most by GOP proposals.”

“Keys” in Obama’s Favor

Lichtman’s “13 Keys” predict the popular vote based on the performance of the party and not the use of candidate preference polls, campaign tactics, or events.

The “keys” are conditions that favor reelection of the incumbent party candidate. The incumbent party candidate wins when five or fewer keys are false, but the other party candidate wins when six or more are false.

Even though more than two years have passed since Lichtman first predicted a second Obama term in the White House, Lichtman stands by his prediction as five or fewer keys are false.

“The Keys show that elections are not horse races in which candidates surge ahead or fall behind on the campaign trail, with pollsters keeping score,” Lichtman said. “Rather, a pragmatic American electorate chooses a president according to the performance of the party holding the White House as measured by the consequential events and episodes of a term—economic boom and bust, foreign policy successes and failures, social unrest, scandal, and policy innovation.”

Outlining the Keys:

  •      KEY 1 (Party Mandate): After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than it did after the previous midterm elections. (FALSE)
  •     KEY 2 (Contest): There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 3 (Incumbency): The incumbent-party candidate is the sitting president. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 4 (Third party): There is no significant third party or independent campaign. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 5 (Short-term economy): The economy is not in recession during the election campaign. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 6 (Long-term economy): Real per-capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms. (FALSE)
  •     KEY 7 (Policy change): The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 8 (Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 9 (Scandal): The administration is untainted by major scandal. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 10 (Foreign/military failure): The administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 11 (Foreign/military success): The administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. (TRUE)
  •     KEY 12 (Incumbent charisma): The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. (FALSE)
  •     KEY 13 (Challenger charisma): The challenging-party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. (TRUE)

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Maggie Barrett
American University Communications
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