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Release: Immediate

UI professor is toast of France for political prediction

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa professor of political science is finding he has a new role as one of the best-known political analysts in France after correctly predicting -- in the face of overriding skepticism -- that the conservative coalition government would lose the recent election.

Michael Lewis-Beck, an expert on forecasting elections, and his colleague, Christine Aymar, were alone in predicting that the Socialist Party would win the Parliamentary elections.

"Now, French political observers think we're wizards," Lewis-Beck says. "Before the election, they thought we were nuts. The truth lies somewhere in between."

In an article entitled, "Iowa gives the win to the opposition" (English translation), published May 23 -- two days before the first round of voting in the two-round system -- Lewis-Beck and Aymar predicted defeat for the conservative coalition led by President Jacques Chirac. The article appeared in the French newspaper, Liberation.

Basing their prediction on economic data indicating a stagnant French economy and polls showing growing unpopularity for Chirac, the Iowans stood out sharply against an array of political polls and traditional political wisdom that predicted an overwhelming victory for Chirac.

The lone prediction became reality June 1 when the opposition Socialist Party won a majority of parliamentary seats and put together a coalition government.

The recent prediction is the latest in a series of correct calls by Lewis-Beck, considered one of the world's leading experts on using statistical models that rely on economic, political and social data to forecast electoral outcomes.

Since 1985 he has correctly predicted the winner of the French elections. His predictions of United States presidential elections routinely come within a few percentage points of matching the actual outcomes.

Since the election, Lewis-Beck has fielded calls from a wide variety of French media, curious about his electoral insights. Some political observers have asked if the system of polling should be replaced with Lewis-Beck's statistical method.

"We've gotten a lot of notoriety," Lewis-Beck says .

Lewis-Beck is the author of two books, "Forecasting Elections" and "Economics and Elections: The Major Western Democracies," which won the Quincy Wright Award of the International Studies Association.