University of Alabama experts predict leading stories for 2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 30, 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 &#8220Thriller,” the best-selling album of all time. &#8220Cats” debuts on Broadway and &#8220ET” is a box office hit.

And at The University of Alabama, a group of faculty gathered to make predictions on what they expected in the new year of 1982. As it turned out, they were right on target. That year'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't work) and fashions would be influenced by Princess Diana (they were).

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

While the experts said their predictions don't always come true – the best they can do, they said, is &#8220educated guesses” – their track record is good.

Last year, the experts predicted high gas prices, economic growth and President Bush'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, gas prices hovering around $2 a gallon, a decrease in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, more 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 reelected

Gov. Bob Riley and current Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley will meet in the November governor's race and Riley will win, according to Dr. David Lanoue, chair of The University of Alabama political science department.

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

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

The gubernatorial primaries, which will be held in June, will be different for each party. Lanoue predicts that the Democratic primary race will be close – almost too close to call – while the Republican primary will not be.

Sweet home, Alabama

The state's economy will continue to grow with inflation rates of near 2.6 percent and increased consumer spending in the state.

&#8220We think the Alabama gross state product will rise 3.2 percent in 2006 after growing 3.4 percent in 2005,” Ahmad Ijaz, an economic analyst at the center, said.

Ijaz said the Federal Reserve Bank will raise the fed funds rate to 4.75 by March and then the increases should slow.

Gas tanks may not cost as much to fill, as oil prices will fall slightly in 2006, from an average of $57 per barrel in 2005 to about $55 per barrel in 2006.

No let up in sight

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

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

The reason for the activity, Shankman said, isn'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. However, another factor, which came into play last hurricane season, was the lack of powerful, high altitude, &#8220trade winds” which can &#8220slice off” the tops of hurricanes, reducing their strength.

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 in 2006, Snow said.

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

Kennedy's court

The U.S. Supreme Court could be dubbed the &#8220Kennedy court” 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'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.

Changes at the cash register

Look for increased use of store brands by retailers and more acceptance of same by consumers in 2006.

&#8220Companies have been upgrading the packaging of private labels, making them more attractive and authentic,” said Dr. Kristy Reynolds, associate professor of marketing at UA's Culverhouse College of Commerce and the Bruno Professor of Retail Marketing. &#8220Stores have also upgraded the in-store marketing of private labels. Many stores are promoting their own brands through in-store marketing that prominently displays the products.”

Technology, entertainment at forefront

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

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

&#8220Changes 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.”