Is right, George Bush better hope and...

IF ALLAN LICHTMAN

May 04, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IF ALLAN LICHTMAN is right, George Bush better hope and pray the L.A. riot is not the beginning of "sustained social unrest." If it is, Bush gets beat in November, according to Professor Lichtman's never-fail formula for predicting presidential elections.

Lichtman's formula involves 13 "keys" to an election. If an incumbent's party's nominee gets eight of them, he wins. Last month Lichtman, of American University, told the Christian Science Monitor that he calculates Bush has eight keys and so should be re-elected if nothing changes. But one of the keys he gave Bush then was #8, "(Social unrest): There is no sustained social unrest during the term."

In 1864, 1868 and 1872, an incumbent president or his party's nominee won the presidency despite serious episodes of domestic violence. But in every other election since the beginning of the present two-party system in 1856, the "in" party has lost the presidency when an election followed major unrest.

In 1860, the Democrats lost the presidency after anti-slavery protests resulted in John Brown's 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry.

In 1888, after a couple of years of severe labor strife culminated in the bloody 1886 Haymarket Square riots in Chicago, the Democrats were ousted again.

In 1892, the incumbent Republican was defeated following further bloody labor strife, principally the 1892 Homestead (Pa.) strike, in which steel workers and a private army fought.

In 1896, a severe depression was an added element to still more labor unrest. It took troops to restore order in a Pullman railroad car company strike. Meanwhile, "Coxey's Army," unemployed men led by public works advocate Jacob Coxey, marched on Washington, where a violent conflict occurred. Republicans back in.

In 1920, race riots in several cities, unrest and a "red scare," involving bombings ended eight years of Democratic rule.

In 1932, the Great Depression had begun: massive unemployment, farmers destroying their products, veterans marching on Washington demanding bonuses were routed by troops with fixed bayonets, sober people predicted revolution. Out went the Republicans.

In 1968, after racial rioting on an unprecedented scale, the Democrats lost the White House.

Those are the elections Lichtman says, in his book, "The Thirteen Keys to the Presidency," that the unrest key figures in. I'd add 1960 -- the civil rights movement had begun and troops had been sent to Little Rock. Democrats took over the presidency.

Some historians might say race riots in the 1930s and 1940s should have been counted against the Democratic incumbent, but I would say, and I suppose Lichtman would, too, that those were intense enough but not long-lasting enough to be a key.

Now, it can also be argued that the L.A. riot helps Bush.

Thursday: I so argue.

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