Donald Trump should win the presidency in November, according to a forecast developed by business school professors in France and Switzerland.
Philippe Jacquart, associate professor of organization behavior in the Management, Law, and Resources Department at EMLYON Business School, and John Antonakis, professor of organizational behavior at the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Lausanne, analyzed data from the last 100 years of U.S. presidential elections and concluded that given the state of the economy and a slight charismatic edge, Trump will triumph over Hillary Clinton when voters go to the polls Nov. 8.
“Donald Trump is quite populist and markedly different from candidates we’ve had in the past, and so it’ unclear exactly how it’s going to play out,” Jacquart tells Poets&Quants. “But the broader picture is really pointing to a Republican victory.”
IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID …
Jacquart and Antonakis looked at elections going back to 1916, when Democrat Woodrow Wilson won re-election by defeating Republican Charles Hughes. For that and most other contests, the key measurement to determine who would win an election was economic data.
“People basically base their votes on the extent to which they think the economy is doing well,” Jacquart says. “To the extent that the economic indicators are favorable, they will simply vote for the same party of the incumbent. If not, they choose to punish the party in power and vote for the challenger or challenging party.”
Of course, if that were the only issue, the professors’ model would have leaned in Clinton’s direction. After all, on virtually every economic metric, the country is better off than it was when President Obama took office in the midst of the deepest recession since the Great Recession. Only this week, household income in the U.S. surged 5.2%, the first gain since 2007. But there’s more to it than that.
“We looked at the different economic indicators,” he continues, “and we looked also at some aspects of incumbency, the idea being that it is somewhat of an advantage. On the other hand, if your party has been in power for a number of terms, people might simply be tired and want a change. The state of the economy should derive some hard evidence of how competent the incumbent party or candidate is, and therefore this should be the first thing the voters turn to.”
… EXCEPT WHEN IT ISN’T
However, Jacquart and Antonakis found that when the state of the economy is unclear — which it how it is perceived by many Americans in 2016, despite all the economic indicators showing improvement in employment and wages — superior charisma gives a candidate the edge. Jimmy Fallon’s hair tousling last night put an exclamation point on that issue for Trump.
To measure the charisma of candidates, Jacquart and Antonakis studied newspaper clippings, journal entries, convention speeches, and other evidence. “In the lab we have a number of studies that show that certain uses of rhetoric are predictive of perceptions of charisma,” Jacquart says. “For example, people who use metaphors are perceived to be more charismatic than those who do not use metaphors. Metaphors, lists, stories, anecdotes, repetition, contrast — there is evidence that communicating high and ambitious goals, creating confidence that these goals can be achieved, expressing the sentiment of the greater collective, these things are all tied with perceptions of charisma.”
Jacquart and Antonakis had two graduate students score 48 candidate convention acceptance speeches at the sentence level for the presence or absence of such charismatic items, then assigned a score to each candidate. For 2016, the professors initially assigned a higher charisma score to Clinton; they later revised their assessment and “if anything, there’s a slight advantage for Trump,” Jacquart says. In any case, he says, perceptions of a sluggish economy will likely outweigh considerations of charisma this year.
“The econometric models are all predicting a Republican victory,” Jacquart says. “Other models that only focus, for example, on expert judgment, these are predicting a Democratic victory. So the economy favors Trump, and charisma shouldn’t matter as much given the state of the economy, but if anything it favors Trump, too.”
A VOLATILE AND UNPREDICTABLE RACE
Using both the economy and charisma as measurements, Jacquart and Antonakis have been able to accurately align their model with the outcome of 21 of 24 elections. (They missed 1960, Kennedy over Nixon; 1968, Nixon over Hubert Humphrey; and 1992, Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush.) That was an improvement over the 17 of 24 they got right using only the economy as a guide.
But don’t bet the farm on Trump just yet. As Jacquart concedes, given both candidate’s unique characteristics — Clinton being the first female candidate, and “Trump being Donald Trump” — it is still an extremely difficult election to call.
All indicators point toward a clear Trump win, Jacquart says. But then again, anything can happen.
“The results we have here suggest that if the Republicans don’t win the presidency, they will have Trump to blame for it,” Jacquart says.