As a reporter I have covered or written about every American presidential election beginning in 1932, when, for those of you too young to remember that year, Herbert Hoover went down to defeat and Franklin Delano Roosevelt entered upon the longest presidency in this country's history.
Some have been difficult to forecast, some less so. The most difficult, probably, was 1948, when almost everyone assumed Thomas E. Dewey would defeat incumbent Harry S. Truman. I got that one right. Another one I got right was 1936, when Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas ran against President Roosevelt.
On election morning that year Frank Perrin, then editor of this newspaper, told us that Governor Landon would win. He said he had been talking to editors all over the country and every one said it would be a Republican victory. But I knew one thing Mr. Perrin didn't. I knew that every person in the newspaper composing room was voting for Roosevelt and almost every reporter in the news room.
On the day after the landslide for Roosevelt, Mr. Perrin again telephoned friends and other editors all over the country and came out to the news room shaking his head in disbelief. I remember him saying he couldn't understand what had happened because ''everyone I have talked to said he voted for Landon.'' Governor Landon carried Maine and Vermont. Roosevelt took 60.7 percent of the popular vote, Landon got 36 percent.
That was the election that ruined the reputation of the Literary Digest. It had a famous poll that had successfully forecast several previous elections. It missed that one disastrously, giving the victory to Landon. It struggled on for two more years, then closed down. Its reputation, and its poll-taking technique (samples from telephone books chosen at random), had been damaged beyond repair.
Well, what about 1984?
It is too early to call any sure winner. But it is easy right now to sketch out the formula that will determine the winner.
At the present moment Ronald Reagan is probably the most popular President since Eisenhower. He is riding the crest of a wave of remarkable political good fortune. During his three years in office the American economy has improved steadily and remarkably. Some economists will tell you that much of the credit should go to Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, for his management of the money supply. Other economists say that the recovery is a natural cycle. The obsolete industries and plants have largely been liquidated or replaced by modern activities and machinery. The new happened to take over from the old during the last three years.
But in politics things like that are unimportant. The important thing is that the recovery occurred during the three years of the Reagan presidency. It is the man in the White House who gets credit, or blame, for the performance of the economy.
About two months ago it seemed that Mr. Reagan might have trouble on a widely presumed rising danger of war. The polls showed serious anxiety resulting from Reagan's frequent use of military power in support of his political policies. Briefly, there was talk about the danger of the United States slipping toward war with the Soviet Union.
But since then Mr. Reagan has invited the Soviets to join him in a ''dialogue'' aimed at ''a better working relationship'' between the two countries. Moscow's first reaction was a rhetorical blast from Andrei Gromyko, but since then it must have had second thoughts. Yuri Andropov, who is its top man, did an interview in Pravda which was cool, but left the door open for the ''dialogue.'' In effect, the Soviet head man said, ''What do you want to talk about?''
It is a fair conclusion that the invitation to the dialogue, plus the Andropov reply, has defused the ''war-peace issue.'' So we enter the campaign season with remarkable prosperity and a decline in the East-West tensions which might have tripped up Reagan or any other Republican.
It is fair to assume that if the economy continues to behave more or less as it is behaving right now, and if between now and election day East-West relations get easier and anxiety about war continues to decline, Mr. Reagan will have as clear a chance of winning as any candidate could expect, or even hope for.