Redskins Rule Vies With Crimson Tide’s Win as Election-Year Omen

Redskins Rule Vies With Crimson Tide’s Win as Election Predictor
The helmet of a Washington Redskins player rests on the field during warm ups against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Photographer: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Forget about Supreme Court nominees, control of Congress and ways to avoid the fiscal cliff -- the Washington Redskins rule is on the line tonight.

Since 1940, the football team has an almost unblemished record as a predictor of who will occupy the White House. A win in their last home game before the general election means the incumbent stays in power. A loss puts the challenger in the Oval Office.

The Redskins rule is part of a grab-bag of omens, from the World Series outcome to the performance of the stock market, that are being tested this year. Interest even in non-scientific predictors reflects a hyper-partisan political environment, said Terry Madonna, a political science professor and director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll.

“If you get any result you like, you tend to promote it,” Madonna said in an interview. “It gets blogged about and repeated as a hopeful sign even if everybody understands it’s unscientific.”

Under the Redskins rule, Washington’s 21-13 home loss Sunday to the Carolina Panthers would mean that Republican Mitt Romney will defeat President Barack Obama. It’s worked in all but one of the 18 previous elections -- with the exception in 2004 when the Redskins lost at home and Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry failed to unseat incumbent Republican President George W. Bush.

The Redskins rule is similar to a lot of obscure electoral predictors: True, except when it’s not.

Obama supporters can find comfort in college football, which offers a general election indicator in the University of Alabama-Louisiana State University game.

Since 1984, whenever LSU has won, so has the Republican nominee. In election years when Alabama won, so did the Democrat. The Crimson Tide prevailed Nov. 3, 21-17, so that puts Obama on track for a second term.

Baseball Indicator

Obama got another predictive boost last month when the National League’s San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series.

Democrats tend to win the White House when the National League team captures the series in an election year; Republicans take the Oval Office when the American League wins. This has held true for 11 of the past 15 election-year fall classics, including the last three.

The stock market’s performance and consumer sentiment give mixed signals about the outcome of today’s voting.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average points to Obama’s re-election while the Conference Board’s 45-year-old measure of consumer confidence gives the nod to Romney.

When the Dow has risen more than 5 percent a year, the incumbent party has held on to the presidency 11 times and lost it only three times. The Dow is up at an annualized rate of almost 13 percent since Obama took office.

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence metric has accurately signaled the outcome of re-election bids of seven presidents, starting in 1972 with Richard Nixon.

When the confidence level averages above 95, the incumbent has won. Obama faces voters with the reading averaging 67 this year.

Basketball Game

Obama himself has adopted a superstition he’s deemed a predictor of the outcome of important elections: pick-up basketball. He’ll convene a game with close friends today in Chicago, something he did four years ago when he was first elected to office. He didn’t play a game on the day of the 2008 New Hampshire primary, which he lost to Hillary Clinton.

“We made the mistake of not playing basketball once,” Robert Gibbs, a former press secretary to Obama who is now traveling with the president as a senior adviser to the campaign, told reporters yesterday. “I can assure you that we will not repeat that.”

Still, Obama has no control over one of the simplest predictors of electoral outcome -- the date.

A Nov. 6 polling day suggests Obama is fated to be a one-termer. Since 1860, the six times election day has previously fallen on that date, the Republican candidate has taken the White House.

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