Staff writers Clay Chandler and Steven Pearlstein tout Yale professor Ray Fair's economic mode for predicting presidential election results, asserting that "the only presidential contest Fair has called wrong was Clinton's victory over President George Bush" {news story, May 31}.

Although it is the most celebrated economic theory of presidential election results, Mr. Fair's model is conceptually flawed and far less accurate than the story would have us believe.

Mr. Fair has predicted five elections, with a score of 2-2-1 -- no better than a coin flip. He missed 1992, predicting a near-landslide for Mr. Bush with 58 percent of the two-party vote. He also missed 1976, when he predicted a 56 percent victory for President Ford. "I am still living this one down," Mr. Fair wrote in a 1978 article in The Review of Economics and Statistics.

In 1980 Mr. Fair's equations produced contradictory predictions that were not resolved until after the election. "No conclusions were drawn from the earlier results regarding this {1980} choice," Mr. Fair wrote in a 1983 article in the same journal. Mr. Fair's model and all other economic theories falsely presume that voters are driven by economic concerns alone. Voters are less narrow-minded and more sophisticated than that; they decide presidential elections on a wide-ranging assessment of the performance of incumbent parties.

Mr. Fair blew 1976 because his model ignored Watergate and the collapse of Vietnam. He couldn't make a call in 1980 because his equations neglected the Iran hostage crisis and President Carter's stalled domestic agenda.

And he missed 1992 because he didn't consider Mr. Bush's failed leadership, his lack of a record of policy change and the advent of the Perot campaign.


Professor of History

The American University