BOSTON — GEORGE BUSH may have stumbled in the New Hampshire primary, but he is riding high according to Ray Fair's simple, by-the-numbers formula.
If the economy follows the path currently forecast by economists surveyed by Blue Chip Economic Indicators, Mr. Bush will win handily by a margin of 56 to 44, give or take three points, Mr. Fair says.
The Yale University professor's equation, designed to chart the relation between the United States economy and presidential election outcomes, has proved to be a reliable model. Its prediction has come within one or two percentage points of the actual vote in each of the last six presidential elections.
The question, Fair says, is whether the US economy will behave as economists expect, with growth running at 2.2 percent in the second quarter and 3.1 percent in the third.
If it does, then "people will feel much differently then [in November] than they do now" about the economy, he says.
Another model, developed by Michael Lewis-Beck, a political science professor at the University of Iowa, factors in the president's popularity rating as well as the economic growth rate.
This model currently shows Bush winning a narrow victory.
"If his popularity slips any further, if the economy slips any further, he's going to lose," Mr. Lewis-Beck predicts.
In Fair's strictly economic model, however, Bush will be tough to beat even if the US enters another recession. The growth rate would have to dive to a negative 5 percent before the model tips the scales clearly in a Democrat's favor, given the voters' tendency to favor Republicans.
Fair's equation hinges on:
1. How well the economy grows during the two quarters preceding the election, measured on a per capita basis to adjust for population growth.
2. The inflation rate for the two years preceding the vote.
Lewis-Beck says the key economic statistics come earlier in the election year; his model measures gross domestic product from the fourth quarter of the year before the vote to the second quarter of the election year. He says his model correctly picks 10 of the last 11 winners of the presidency, the exception being Kennedy's narrow victory over Nixon in 1960. Fair's model narrowly misses for the 1968 and '76 elections, as well as '60.