Newswise — For the 31st consecutive year, The University of Alabama Office of Media Relations offers predictions from faculty experts for the coming year. So, what’s ahead for 2012? Look for President Barack Obama to face, and defeat, a surprise Republican nominee, online doomsday groups to spike, the Occupy Movement to re-emerge, fuel prices to remain unstable and much more.
Expanded versions of each of these guesses is available at www.uanews.ua.edu
Obama to Battle, Beat Late-Entry Republican
President Obama is likely to win re-election in 2012, but his Republican opponent will not be one of the current candidates battling one another in the early primaries, a University of Alabama political scientist predicts. “I think there are a lot of Republicans who are not going be satisfied with the best of who’s out there now,” says Dr. Richard C. Fording, chair of the UA political science department. “They don’t have a candidate who can beat Obama,” he says. Although a new candidate – for example, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, businessman Donald Trump or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- might be behind in organization and fund-raising, she or he would avoid the scathing political battles under way in the debates and in the Iowa caucuses.
Cuba May be State’s Next Big Customer
The Alabama business community needs to practice its Spanish, and that suggestion has nothing to do with the state’s controversial immigration law. Dr. Jase Ramsey, an assistant professor of marketing at The University of Alabama, predicts the United States will continue to ease trade sanctions on Cuba and, as early as this time next year, some U.S. businesses will visit the island nation on state-sponsored trade missions to size up market potential. “Alabama's proximity to the Communist country makes our businesses especially attractive for potential foreign direct investment into Cuba,” Ramsey says. “A key component that will determine who gets access to Cuba is prior relationships with the Castro regime and with Cuban politicians.
Online Doomsday Groups to Spike
Warnings about apocalyptic cataclysms in 2012 potentially will serve as a catalyst for Internet hysteria, a University of Alabama psychology professor predicts. According to some scholars, the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end in 2012. Figures in popular culture and the Internet are taking this prediction seriously. The result could be panic on the level of the Y2K scare of 1999, says Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, assistant professor of psychology. “We’re going to see a lot of doomsday groups grow online,” says Guadagno, an Internet scholar. “If one of them gets big enough, we’ll see hysteria spreading over the Internet. Then we’ll see the kind of crazy things some people were doing on New Year’s Eve in 1999.”
New App to Displace Craigslist, Professor Predicts
Application software, also known as an application or an "app," seems ubiquitous these days. The computer software is designed to help users perform specific tasks. You can play games, learn guitar, set up a workout program, shop and a jillion other things. Dr. Craig E. Armstrong, assistant professor of management at The University of Alabama, says he expects someone to create, within the next year, an "app" that performs "Craigslist" functions for the exchange of goods and services. Need to find someone to paint your house? Check the app. Want to earn some extra money by applying a skill you have? Check the app. The app platform will displace Craigslist because it will enable transactions with less traction and allow buyers and sellers to create reputations, Armstrong says.
Social Media to Serve as New Opinion Polls
One of the biggest changes from the 2008 presidential election to the 2012 election is the increase in social media outlets and usage. Dr. Kristen Heflin, assistant professor of advertising and public relations in The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences, says she expects the public to have more access to candidates than ever before – and that access will include the good, the bad and the ugly. “Social media will continue to serve as an echo chamber for candidate gaffes, as we’ve already seen …” Heflin says. “Social media will be mined for information on public opinion. Social media buzz will serve as the new opinion polls. News organizations will base their stories off of social media buzz.”
Has the ‘Occupy’ Movement Faded? Don’t Bet on It
As Occupy encampments around the country seem to be fading as we move into a new year, some analysts and media personalities are criticizing the movement for lack of focus and mission, and they are voicing the inevitable predictions of doom and failure for the movement. But, not so fast, my friend, says Dr. Gary Hoover, a UA economics professor. He says the movement only appears to have gone dormant in places like New York and Oakland where demonstrators were forced by police to leave their staging grounds. “ … I predict that we have not heard the last of the Occupy Movement. In fact, I think they will be heard again and re-emerge on the political and economic landscape more determined and forceful than ever.”
Female Running Mate May Determine Election
Whereas many eyes were on presidential candidates in the final days of 2011, one University of Alabama professor believes the vice presidential race is the one to watch. Dr. Janis Edwards, associate professor of communication studies, says the VP slot may actually determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. “On the Republican side, none of the current candidates is likely to beat Obama, despite his perceived weakness,” Edwards says. “Romney is not popular, nor a good campaigner. Gingrich will produce buyer’s remorse. Therefore, the partner on the ticket could be very meaningful for Republican momentum, especially if there is great appeal to women voters.” Edwards says there is an outside chance that current vice president Joe Biden could assume the role of secretary of state, opening up the vice presidential spot on the Democrat side.
Stressful 2011 Could Make for a Depressed 2012
2011 has been a turbulent one for the people of Alabama, and a professor in The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing thinks many people will feel the effects mentally during 2012. “I predict an increase in the number of patients seeking care for a new-onset of depression, anxiety and mental health conditions,” says Dr. Amy Bigham, assistant professor of nursing. Traumatic events can cause anxiety, stress and depression later, once the initial shock wears down. “The year 2011 was stressful for many Alabamians due to changes in the economy, increases in job losses and natural disasters,” says Bigham.
Year of Natural Disaster to Bring Changes in 2012
The United States was particularly hard hit with a string of natural disasters in the past year: unprecedented summer heat and drought in the Southwest, deadly tornadoes, a massive blizzard in the Northeast, major river floods in the Midwest, an earthquake on the East Coast followed by a hurricane that caused massive flooding. So we can expect municipalities around the nation to look for ways to mitigate losses caused by natural disasters. “The U.S. can no longer afford to ignore the management of catastrophic losses at the state and federal levels,” said Dr. William Rabel, professor of finance and head of the insurance program at The University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. “They will have to identify and evaluate exposures and then select the optimum tools for controlling and financing losses. “Every state and the federal government will need a chief risk officer.”
One of Least Productive Years in Congressional History Ahead
The 2012 congressional elections will see Republicans hold onto the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats hold onto the Senate, a University of Alabama political scientist predicts. But, new faces may emerge as Republican and Democratic candidates challenge incumbents in primaries. “This will be a status-quo election for Congress in terms of the partisan breakdown,” says Dr. Stephen Borrelli, professor of political science. Borrelli also predicts continued stalemate in Congress as the presidential election approaches, particularly if unemployment continues to fall. “You’re going to see one of the least productive years in the history of Congress,” Borrelli says. “It will be all they can do to keep the government running …”
Tablets, Other Mobile Devices to Become More Evident in Hospitals
iPads aren’t just on little Bobby and Susie’s list – medical workers also have an iPad or other tablet device at the top of their holiday gift-wish list. Dr. Heather D. Carter-Templeton, in The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing, says there will be a surge in the use of tablets and mobile devices in the hospital and community health clinical settings in 2012. “Recent studies have found rapid growth in the use of mobile technology among health-care professionals, such as physicians and nurses,” she says. “They’re small, easily portable and can carry a tremendous amount of evidence-based information accessible at the point-of-care.” However, the industry must adjust, she says. “The type of work, the physical space of the nursing unit and who will be using the devices needs to be considered when planning for the use of mobile technology within the clinical setting.”
Middle East Unrest, Sputtering Economies to Keep Fuel Prices Unstable
Fuel prices will remain unstable in 2012 as pressure from all sides influence the cost of crude oil, according to a University of Alabama engineering professor who follows the petroleum markets. A decrease in demand the last month or so of 2011 slightly reversed jumps in gasoline prices in the United States, but there is too much political uncertainty ahead to believe that should continue, says Dr. Peter Clark, professor of chemical engineering. If anything, demand in the U.S. should increase with the slow-recovering economy and the annual price spike from the summer thirst for fuel. “Volatility in the oil market translates to volatility in gasoline prices,” Clark says. Continued unrest in the Middle East and instability among European economies, combined with a recovering economy at home, could mean higher prices at the fuel pump in 2012, he says.
Health Care Will Continue to be a Pain in the Head
If you think the health-care reform debate has been intense and confusing so far, take two aspirins and try to follow it through 2012. “I think that in 2012, Americans will begin to seriously debate the entire health-care question,” says Dr. William Rabel, professor of finance and head of the insurance program at the Culverhouse College of Commerce. “Not just how it is financed, but how it is created and delivered as well. Whether Obamacare is upheld by the Supreme Court or not, it is only a transitional phase as we grope our way to a health-care system that will have substantial differences from the one we know today,” Rabel says.
Occupy Protesters Unlikely to See Increase in Court Victories
Recent events surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement have led to questions regarding the First Amendment rights of citizens. Dr. Matthew D. Bunker, Reese Phifer Professor of Journalism, says protesters could expect mixed results in litigation. “Public places such as parks and streets have traditionally been considered public forums for the expression of ideas, but the government retains the ability to impose reasonable restrictions based on the time, place or manner of the speech,” Bunker says. “That means that courts will often side with local officials who try to regulate tents and 24-hour campsites for reasons of public health and safety.” For media members covering the events, Bunker says results were likely to be similar but that the courts might see an increase in individual actions for false arrest or excessive force.
Low Interest Rates Ain’t Gonna Last
So, if interest rates are at record low levels, it’s pretty safe to predict that they are going to increase, right? “Right,” says Dr. Benton Gup, professor of finance at The University of Alabama, “but let’s not make the same mistakes that led to the failure and consolidation of thousands of financial institutions in the 1980s. Simply stated, when market rates of interest were low in the 1970s, lenders borrowed short-term funds at low rates and made long-term fixed rate mortgage loans at slightly higher rates.” Gup says the important point is that mortgage lenders should not make long-term fixed rate loans unless they can hedge their interest rate risk or match the maturity of their assets and liabilities. So, look for interest rates to go up but in a more constrained lending environment.