# Predicting the winner of the presidential election in 2024

Let’s assume you’re a bookmaker or the head of the North America department in the Chinese Foreign Intelligence Service.

The task is to make a longterm prediction and compile a list of persons who have the potential to be nominated to run for the office of president of the United States and win the election in the year 2024.

How many names would have to be on that list to predict the future president with a degree of probability p (0 ≤ p ≤ 1)? p = 1 meaning it is absolutely certain that the name of the future president is on that list.

l stands for the number of names on the list.

a) p = 0.1; l = 200
b) p = 0.5; l = 750
c) p = 0.9; l = 5,000
d) p = 0.99; l = 10,000

Interesting exercise.

As a start, I would use the last 10-20 presidents as a training set, and look at what they were doing 12 years prior to their election. Off the top of my head, I think most had a political career at that point, with a few exceptions. So if you took the set of all current US congresscritters, state governors, and generals, there’s a pretty good shot that this set would contain the future president. Since that set of people isn’t particularly huge, your WAGs probably are around the correct order of magnitude.

Obviously you can look at other presidential characteristics to refine this prediction further, but with such a small training set there’s a danger of overfitting. I.e. if you did this exercise in 1996, you’d probably exclude Obama from the set of possible future presidents – every prior US president was a white dude with a more advanced political career at that point.

You would eliminate Bush II as well. He was a failed businessman at that point with only one failed Congressional run behind him.

After [del]twenty minutes on Wikipedia over lunch[/del] exhaustive research, here’s a list of what each president was doing 12 years prior to their election:

Obama: freshman state senator in '96
Bush II: not-very-successful businessman, worked on father’s campaign in '88 and '92
Clinton: governor in '80 and '84
Bush I: director of CIA in '76, formerly a US representative and ambassador
Reagan: governor in '68 and '72
Carter: state senator in '64
Nixon: vice president in '60 and '56, formerly US representative and senator.
Johnson: US senator in '52, formerly US representative.
Kennedy: US representative in '48
Eisenhower: US army Lt. Col in '40 and 5-star general in '44
Truman: US senator in '36
FDR: Governor and also elected president (!) in '32, Wiki doesn’t say much about '28 or '24, asst. secretary of the Navy in '20, former state senator
Hoover: Prominent businessman and humanitarian in '16
Coolidge: State senator in '12
Harding: Not in office in '08, former governor
Wilson: President of Princeton in '04, Wiki doesn’t say anything about '00.

By my count, the president held some sort of major elected office 12 years prior to election in 13/25 cases, or had done so previously in another 5/25 cases.

Count up the people in the categories I mentioned above, and you can come up with crude estimates of l at various p-values.

I would say that Hoover and Ike are the least expected candidates?

People were mooting Hoover as a candidate in 1918 due to his humanitarian work during WWI and he made his first run in 1920. I don’t think his Presidency was really that unexpected, even as far back as 1916.

Eisenhower is probably a better example of someone it would’ve been hard to predict. Though I guess in 1940 you could at least guess that the US would be involved in a major war soon, and from history guess that at least one military leader from that war would leverage his military success to gain the Presidency. Doubt anyone would’ve picked Eisenhower out from the rest of the low level US Generals though.

Wilson seems the biggest darkhorse. So far as I know, we haven’t had any other Presidents move from academic administration to the Presidency.

If I recall correctly, Eisenhower was still a Lieutenant Colonel in 1940. His rise to military and political stardom really would have been a long shot.

@ lazybratsche

That’s a great list! BTW, wasn’t Jimmy Carter also at one time the governor of Georgia?

Governorship seems to be a very good predictor, especially in the more recent past.

It will be Obama, obviously. He’s going to have the U.N. overthrow the constitution and just re-run for president and win every year.