Experts predict year to come

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The year was 1981. Ronald Reagan was president. John Hinkley had been found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting Reagan the year before.

Michael Jackson releases &8220;Thriller,&8221; the best-selling album of all time. &8220;Cats&8221; debuts on Broadway, and &8220;ET: The Extra Terrestrial&8221; is a box office hit.

And at the University of Alabama, a group of faculty gather to make predictions on what they expected in the new year of 1982.

As it turned out, they were right on target. That year&8217;s experts predicted the moral majority would lose influence (it did); feminists would continue to push for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (they did, but it didn&8217;t work); and fashions would be influenced by Princess Diana (they were.)

Now, some 24 years later, the experts are still at it, predicting happenings for the new year.

While the experts said their predictions don&8217;t always come true &8212; the best they can do, they said, is &8220;educated guesses&8221; &8212; their track record is good.

Last year, the experts predicted high gas prices, economic growth and President George W. Bush&8217;s first opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice.

What do the experts predict for 2006? Look for Gov. Bob Riley to be re-elected, for gas prices to hover around $2 a gallon, for a decrease in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The experts have also predicted additional major hurricanes and more entertainment and less journalism in the news media.

Here is a look at what the experts believe you can expect in 2006:

Riley re-elected

Gov. Bob Riley and current Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley will meet in the November governor&8217;s race and Riley will win, according to Dr. David Lanoue, chair of the UA political science department.

Lanoue predicts Riley will defeat Baxley by a margin of five to 10 percentage points.

&8220;General satisfaction with the state of affairs in Alabama will propel Gov. Riley to a relatively easy November re-election,&8221; he said. &8220;Baxley will have a difficult time making the case for replacing Riley.

&8220;With primary elections over, most Christian conservatives will return to the GOP fold. Although strong African-American support for the Democratic nominee will prevent the race from being a total blowout, Riley should coast to victory.&8221;

Lanoue also predicts that George Wallace Jr., son of former governors George and Lurleen Wallace, will be elected lieutenant governor.

&8220;Between his strong name recognition, the lack of an incumbent in the race, the general statewide Republican trend and the support of key national GOP leaders like (U.S. Sen.) John McCain, Wallace will win the Republican primary and the election in November,&8221; he said.

No let up in sight

The next year will be heavy on hurricanes but light on snow.

&8220;We should expect major hurricane landfalls on the Gulf Coast,&8221; said Dr. David Shankman, a professor of geography who regularly teaches a climatology class at UA. &8220;This will probably be another active hurricane season.&8221;

The reason for the activity, Shankman said, isn&8217;t due to global warming alone.

The last decade has been an active hurricane period, and elevated sea surface temperatures are a factor in the frequency of hurricanes forming, he said.

Another factor which came into play last hurricane season, was the lack of powerful, high altitude, &8220;trade winds&8221; which can &8220;slice off&8221; the tops of hurricanes, reducing their strength.

&8220;We did not have these powerful winds the last couple of years, and that allowed these storms to be more powerful&8221; than normal, he said.

Other than hurricanes, Alabamians should not expect much extreme weather in 2006, Shankman says.

Fewer troops in Iraq

Troop reductions in the Middle East will help Republicans in elections, according to Dr. Donald Snow, professor of political science at UA.

The U.S. military will decrease the number of troops in Iraq by roughly a third during 2006, Snow said.

&8220;Initially, it will be in small increments but large enough to create a political cover for the Republican party in the 2006 elections,&8221; he said. &8220;I think there will be about 100,000 troops in Iraq this time next year.&8221;

Lanoue, chair of the UA political science department, said the changes will effect American voters.

&8220;The Democrats, hampered by their inability to sound a common theme on Iraq and also outfoxed by a well-publicized mid-year withdrawal of several thousand troops from the country, will pick up seats in the mid-term elections but will not do nearly as well as they originally expected,&8221; he said. &8220;The House and Senate will remain firmly in Republican hands after the election.&8221;

Kennedy&8217;s court

The U.S. Supreme Court could be dubbed the &8220;Kennedy court&8221; in 2006 as Justice Anthony Kennedy is likely to provide the deciding vote on most major cases, UA law professor Bryan Fair said.

Although Chief Justice John Roberts will be in the spotlight as the court&8217;s new leader, Kennedy will play the key role in the direction the court takes.

Fair predicts that nominee Samuel Alito will be confirmed early in the year, adding his conservative vote to the court.

&8220;Justice Kennedy will be the swing vote in many of the most controversial cases including parental notification on abortion and other abortion issues that may come up and a wide variety of criminal, federal law and civil rights cases, not only in 2006 but in the next two or three years,&8221; Fair said.

&8220;The court will have a 4-1-4 alignment with Justices Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg and Souter on one side and Justices Roberts, Thomas, Scalia and Alito on the other. Kennedy will be the questionable vote in the center,&8221; he said.

Technology, entertainment

at forefront

News media will focus more on entertainment through technologically advanced means of transmission in the near future, a UA communication expert predicts.

Dr. Bill Keller, assistant to the dean for journalism administration, predicts &8220;less journalistically disciplined&8221; information from the media in coming months.

&8220;Changes in the next year or two will include cellular-transmitted information to iPods, as iPods become phones and phones become iPods and as television sets become computers and computers become television sets.&8221;

Keller sees the media and audiences more concerned about technology than content.

The technology changes will effect banking, too.

Internet banking will continue to increase as more consumers do their personal banking online in the coming year, said Dr. Benton Gup, professor of finance and holder of the Robert Hunt Cochran/Alabama Bankers Chair at UA Alabama banking expert says. Competition for financial services will also be intense.

&8220;Continued changes in electronic and internet banking are inevitable,&8221; Gup said.

A survey done by the Pew Internet Project shows that about 50 percent of older baby boomers and 40 percent of younger baby boomers are banking online. About 60 percent of Generation Y consumers are banking online, and those numbers are expected to increase.

Gup says banks are responding to changes in competition, globalization, laws, technology and other factors, but the long-run effect of these factors on banks is not clear