Forecasting the Presidential Vote with Leading Economic Indicators and the Polls
Robert S. Erikson, Columbia University
Christopher Wlezien, University of Texas at Austin
On election eve the presidential vote can be seen fairly clearly from trial-heat polls. Earlier in the election year, the polls offer much less information about what will happen on Election Day. They capture preferences to the moment and do not anticipate how preferences will evolve in the future. The standing of the sitting president is important and the economy too, but both can change as the election cycle unfolds. Our solution to the problem of early forecasting is to turn to The Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators (LEI). The growth in these indicators through the spring of the election year—quarter 13 of the election cycle—is a strong predictor of the vote. This is for two reasons: (1) it provides a summary of the state of the economy leading up to the election year; and (2) it gives advance indication of changes in the economy (and presidential approval) during the election year. We use the quarter 13 measure of cumulated LEI growth in conjunction with current trial-heat polls to predict the vote during the election year. The model currently predicts 52% of the two-party vote for Clinton and a probability of winning of approximately 80%.