Educated guesses 2007: Predictions from UA experts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 30, 2006

Special to the Advocate

For the 26th consecutive year, The University of Alabama's Office of Media Relations offers predictions from faculty experts for the coming year. While these &#8220educated guesses” don't always come true, our track record over the years has been good.

Last year, for example, our faculty predicted that Gov. Bob Riley would be re-elected, gas prices would stay above $2 a gallon, store brands would become more popular, designer steroid use would be up among world-class athletes and the state's economy would grow.

So what's ahead for 2007? Look for two of the best known presidential hopefuls to drop out of the race, a reduction in American troops in Iraq, an increase in sales of hybrid and diesel fueled cars, older Americans joining the IM generation and much more.

Well known Presidential hopefuls to drop out of race

Two of the best known presidential candidate hopefuls will drop out during the coming year, and the use of blogs will help influence the choice of the Democratic Party candidate, projects Dr. David Lanoue, chair of The University of Alabama political science department.

&#8220By the end of 2007, two of the four current &#8220frontrunners” for president - Clinton, Obama, Giuliani, and McCain - will have dropped out of the race or decided against entering,” Lanoue says. &#8220My guess is that those two will be Obama and Giuliani, but anything is possible. The left-wing blogosphere &#8220netroots” will begin to coalesce around a more left-of-center Democratic challenger.”

Sales of hybrids to rise

The automotive market will see an increase in sales of both hybrid and diesel fueled engines in 2007, with hybrid engines outselling diesels, predicts a University of Alabama engineering professor. He also predicts automotive makers, such as Ford and GM, will begin a &#8220rebuilding season,” after years of being hurt by foreign car manufacturers.

&#8220Sales of hybrids will continue to increase in 2007, even though diesel engines are the most fuel efficient on the open road,” says Dr. Clark Midkiff, professor of mechanical engineering and director of UA's Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies.

The Big Three American car manufacturers will make a dramatic comeback, as Midkiff predicts they will produce more hybrid and diesel options.

No Child Left Behind to undergo major changes

Congressional hearings and subsequent reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act will produce major changes in the act in 2007, predicts Dr. Stephen Katsinas, a University of Alabama education policy expert.

&#8220Democrats are concerned about being shortchanged by some $30 billion in funding since 2001, while many Republicans from rural states are concerned about a ‘one size fits all' approach to implementing testing programs,” says Katsinas, director of the Education Policy Center in the UA College of Education.

U.S. to reduce troops in Iraq, Iran status to improve

Strategies and options for the United States' involvement in Iraq abound from many sources, but the reduction in the number of troops will be the option that is implemented, in part with the &#8220help” of Iran, says Dr. Doug Gibler, assistant professor of political science at The University of Alabama. &#8220Iran will play a major role in the draw down of U.S. troops in Iraq,” predicts Gibler. &#8220Much of the insurgency seems to be driven by Iranian support, and it seems likely that the United States will have to reach some sort of power-sharing arrangement with Iran in order to remove troops from the region.”

Instant messaging increases among seniors in 2007

The use of instant messaging will go gray in 2007 as older Americans join the IM generation, predicts a University of Alabama technology expert.

&#8220The immediacy of communications (i.e. cell phones, IM) will move into the ‘senior’ generation as more older Americans will be using communication devices that allow more mobile, immediate communications,” says Dr. Barrie Jo Price, professor of interactive technology in UA's College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Price says you'll see more tech-related items designed for seniors.

Get your morning paper - on the web

In 2007 and years to come, more and more of us will read our morning newspaper on a Web site before we read it on the printed page, a University of Alabama communication expert predicts. &#8220Publishers and editors know that they must find ways to continue to reach readers of the printed page as well as to attract readers who may read news only on the Internet,” says Dr. Bill Keller, assistant to the dean for journalism administration in the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences. &#8220The editing process used to separate rumor from fact and to separate innuendo from an accurate charge provides newspapers their strongest asset.”

Oil prices to remain steady, natural gas prices poised for increase

In 2007 the price of oil will stay around $60 dollars a barrel, if there are no major upsets in the world, says a University of Alabama engineering professor.

&#8220Anything that threatens the oil supply will drive the price up above $60 even though there may not be a real shortfall in oil supplies,” explains Dr. Peter Clark, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at UA. &#8220Without major investments in offshore drilling and liquefied natural gas terminals, the long-term outlook for natural gas supplies is not good. This will be reflected in a steady increase in the price of natural gas over the next few years.”

State politicos to battle between, within party lines

While the federal government will work together, at least in early 2007, Alabama politics won't be as friendly.

&#8220Back home, however, Governor Bob Riley will face more acrimonious relations with the Democrats in the state legislature, and the legislature itself will be wracked with significant intra- and inter-party battles,” predicts Dr. David Lanoue, professor and chair of The University of Alabama political science department.

&#8220Lt. Gov. Folsom will be a much more visible player in day to day politics than was his predecessor, Lucy Baxley,” Lanoue says. &#8220The new lieutenant governor will be positioning himself for a run at the top job in 2010. On the Republican side, Attorney General Troy King will attempt to keep his own name in the news for the same reasons.”

Hotels will See increase in occupancy

Hotel occupancy will increase in 2007 as more and more baby boomers retire, predicts University of Alabama hotel management expert Kim Boyle.

&#8220Baby boomers have more time, are more travel-educated, and have more money to spend than any previous generation in the past,” says Boyle, assistant professor of restaurant, hotel and meetings management in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Boyle also predicts this year's fad of hotels offering plush bedding will increase among all hotel chains. &#8220Guests won't be able to distinguish between one property's plush bedding and another's, so it will lose its effectiveness in drawing business.”

Regime change likely in North Korea

A regime change in North Korea is much more likely in 2007, projects a University of Alabama political scientist with expertise in international politics.

&#8220While regime changes are incredibly difficult to predict, the recent testing of a nuclear device may be an indication of the relative weakness of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il,” says Dr. Doug Gibler. &#8220North Korea is one of the most isolated countries on earth. But, we do know that most of the domestic policies are geared primarily toward protection of the leader. The pursuit of nuclear weapons may be a maneuver to reinforce the legitimacy of the Kim Jong-il regime internally.”

Bush approval to rise

President George Bush's approval rate will rise as he orders a decrease of troops in Iraq, predicts a University of Alabama professor of political science.

Dr. David Lanoue, chair of the political science department says, &#8220By mid-2007, President Bush will start seriously considering, and possibly implementing, a reduction of U.S. ground forces in Iraq. This, combined with public acknowledgement of a stronger economy, will improve Bush's job approval ratings and they will generally exceed 40 percent by late 2007. Relations between President Bush and the Democratic Congress will begin harmoniously, but deteriorate as the White House refuses to cooperate fully with subpoenas issued by investigating committees.”

Business, government to collect more data

Look for both business and government to collect more personal data in 2007 - and for people to continue to worry about their privacy as a result - says Dr. Michael Hardin, professor of statistics and director of the Business Intelligence Center at The University of Alabama.

&#8220Clearly no one will be collecting less data, either in business or in government,” Hardin says. &#8220As computer storage capacity and speed continually increases, even more data will be collected and there will be even greater demands to effectively utilize these investments. In 2007, I look for business to rely even more on analytics and an increased demand from employers for all types of individuals with good math or quantitative skills. With all this personal data in the hands of business and government, people will worry about their privacy.”

Supreme Court to avoid sweeping constitutional changes

The U.S. Supreme Court's first full term with Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito on board will yield few blockbuster decisions, a University of Alabama constitutional law expert predicts. Despite the presence of the two new Bush appointees, UA law professor Bryan Fair says the Supreme Court will &#8220seek to avoid sweeping constitutional change.”

Fair expects the court to continue to decide fewer than 90 cases per term and to avoid deciding cases broadly. In a case that will determine whether public schools that use race as a factor in accomplishing integration violate the Equal Protection Clause, Fair predicts Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Stevens will search for one more vote to keep affirmative action alive, but they will lose.

Alabama's housing market looks good

While many economists and housing market analysts are forecasting a very bleak year for housing in 2007, a University of Alabama real estate expert predicts a good year for Alabama's housing market.

Although the housing market began to implode in mid-2005 and continued to cool nationwide through 2006, Dr. Leonard Zumpano, director of the Alabama Real Estate Research and Education Center at UA, says Alabama's robust economy is a good sign for the state's real estate market.

The number of homes for sale in Alabama set an all time record in October 2006. Given the large supply of homes on the market, Zumpano expects some price moderation and slowing sales into 2007.