5 Unscientific Predictors of the Presidential Race


Sure, you could use polls to predict the outcome of the presidential election. Or you could look to these five predictors, which are as quirky as they are accurate.


Kimberly Vardeman, YouTube // CC BY 2.0

Since 1992, Family Circle magazine has been pitting the potential First Spouses against one another—or at least, their recipes. In 1992, Hillary Clinton ruffled some feathers by answering criticism about being a working mom with a statement that didn’t sit too well with stay-at-home mothers: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”

Family Circle capitalized on the controversy and asked each potential First Lady—Clinton and Barbara Bush—to submit a family cookie recipe. Readers voted on the recipe they liked best, and the Commander-in-Chief-of-Cookies was crowned: Clinton’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies beat Bush’s plain chocolate chips.

The winner of the cookie competition usually goes on to take up residence in the White House—it’s been right 5 out of 6 times, The Washington Post reports. The exception happened in 2008, when Cindy McCain’s oatmeal butterscotch cookies beat Michelle Obama’s shortbread cookies.

The winner of the 2016 election: Clinton. The Clinton Family Chocolate Chip Cookies (the same recipe submitted in 1992), have approximately 1500 votes, while Melania Trump’s star-shaped sour cream sugar cookies have just over 500 votes. You can cast your vote until October 4.



When the Spirit Halloween chain, the largest Halloween chain in the U.S., started keeping track of political mask sales in 1996, the company found that the most popular mask indicated the winner of the election. It may be unorthodox, but the method has accuracy on its side: So far, it has been 100 percent accurate.

The winner of the 2016 election: TBD. Halloween sales are in full swing now; Spirit Halloween has traditionally released its numbers closer to the end of October.



This untraditional predictor goes all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt. If the Washington Redskins win their last home game prior to the election, the incumbent party will win. If Washington loses, the incumbent party loses. It’s not 100 percent accurate, but it’s pretty impressive: The first time the rule was proved wrong was 2012; however, an addendum to the rule had to be added in 2000, when Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College:

“Redskins Rule 2.0 established that when the popular vote winner does not win the election, the impact of the Redskins game on the subsequent presidential election gets flipped.”

Steve Hirdt, director of information for ESPN’s Monday Night Football, discovered the correlation in 2000 when he was looking for an interesting graphic to put up on Monday Night Football.

The winner of the 2016 election: TBD. Their last home game is against the Eagles on October 16. As of September 29, the Eagles are 3-0 and the Redskins are 1-2.



Starting with John F. Kennedy in 1960, every time a Democrat has been elected, an Eastern Conference team has won the NBA Finals. Now, those aren't the only times the Eastern Conference has won—Eastern Conference teams have also won in years that a Republican candidate has been elected. But since JFK, no Western Conference team has won the same year a Democrat was elected.

The winner of the 2016 election: Clinton. The Eastern Conference’s Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Western Conference’s Golden State Warriors, 4 games to 3.



Since 1888, the people of Vigo County, Indiana, have only gotten the president pick wrong twice. They voted for William Jennings Bryan over Taft in 1902, and in 1952, they chose Adlai Stevenson instead of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Indiana is known as the Crossroads of America, so perhaps they really do speak for the masses.

The winner of the 2016 election: Trump. We don't know for sure yet, of course, but early polls suggested that Vigo County is very much in favor of Trump.

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
Astrid Riecken, Getty Images

This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

Stacy Conradt
Grave Sightings: Hubert Humphrey
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

With the state of politics lately, it’s hard to imagine a generous act of kindness from one political rival to another. But if Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon were capable of burying the hatchet, there’s hope for anyone.

Humphrey, a senator from Minnesota, ran for president several times. In 1952, he lost the Democratic nomination to Adlai Stevenson. In 1960, of course, he faced a charismatic young senator from Massachusetts named Jack Kennedy. In 1968, Humphrey, who was vice president at the time, came closest to the presidency—but Nixon triumphed by a little more than 500,000 popular votes.

Getty Images

Though he graciously admitted defeat and pledged to help the new president-elect, Humphrey wasn’t shy about criticizing Nixon. Just 10 months after Nixon took office, Humphrey stated that the administration had done “poorly—very poorly” overall, citing the increase in interest rates and the cost of living. Nixon and his team, Humphrey said, had “forgotten the people it said it would remember.” He was still making his opinions known four years after the election, turning his eye to Vietnam. “Had I been elected, we would now be out of that war,” he told the press on January 10, 1972.

Stacy Conradt

The Watergate scandal broke later that year, and Humphrey no doubt felt validated. He mounted another unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1972, but lost the nomination to George McGovern. Humphrey briefly considered trying one more time in 1976, but ultimately nixed the idea. "It's ridiculous — and the one thing I don't need at this stage in my life is to be ridiculous," he said. The public didn’t know it at the time but the politician had been battling bladder cancer for several years. By August 1977, the situation had become terminal, and Humphrey was aware that his days were numbered.

When he knew he had just a few weeks left to live, Humphrey did something that would stun both Republicans and Democrats: He called former rival Richard Nixon and invited him to his upcoming funeral. He knew that Nixon had been depressed and isolated in his political exile, and despite the Watergate scandal and the historical bad blood, he wanted Nixon to have a place of honor at the ceremony. Humphrey knew his death would give the former president a plausible reason to return to Washington, and told Nixon to say he was there at the personal request of Hubert Humphrey if anyone questioned his motives.

Humphrey died on January 13, 1978—and when the funeral was held a few days later, Nixon did, indeed, attend. He stayed out of the Washington limelight, emerging right before the ceremony—to audible gasps. Humphrey’s gracious act must have been on Nixon’s mind when he listened to Vice President Walter Mondale sing the fallen senator’s praises: “He taught us all how to hope, and how to love, how to win and how to lose. He taught us how to live, and finally he taught us how to die.”

Nixon wasn’t the only former foe whom Humphrey had mended fences with. Barry Goldwater, who ran against Humphrey in 1964, had this to say:

“I served with him in the Senate, I ran against him in campaigns, I debated with him, I argued with him. But I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a friendship as much as the one that existed between the two of us. I know it may sound strange to people who see in Hubert a liberal and who see in me a conservative, that the two of us could ever get together; but I enjoyed more good laughs, more good advice, more sound counsel from him that I have from most anyone I have been associated with in this business of trying to be a senator.”

After the ceremony in D.C., Humphrey was buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis. His wife, Muriel, joined him there when she died 20 years later.

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.


More from mental floss studios