2005 Predictions column

Posted: Dec 15, 2004 12:00 AM

 Predictions are easy. It's being right that's tough. As I noted last week, accurate predictions are difficult. As the head of InsiderAdvantage, a national polling company, I have both an advantage over my fellow pundits, who will soon be offering their predictions for 2005, and a responsibility to share that insight with my readers.

 Our surveys for our corporate and trade association clients have been seeking public opinion on a number of issues. Most want to know what the new Republican majority will do for them, or to them. But as is so often the case in predictive polling, there's at least as much information in the question as in the answers.

 Here's how anyone can figure out what the president is going to do: Listen to him. He'll tell you. When he vowed regime change in Iraq, he was excoriated by our alleged "allies" in France, Germany and Russia, who thought they could keep their hands in Saddam's till by browbeating our president into changing his mind and backing down. He didn't. When liberal politicians and media magpies tried to use the deficit as an excuse not to enact tax cuts, Bush stuck to his guns and vowed to stimulate the economy. He did exactly that. As strange as it may sound to the cynics in the country, this president does what he says he will. Expect the same, only more of it, from President Bush.

 The only question mark surrounding the White House for 2005 is the strength of Bush's second-term Cabinet. For all the criticism leveled at the Cabinet members during 2000-2004, the reality is that the president picked a strong team that delivered exceptional results during one of the most trying times in our nation's history. There is no way to predict performance of Bush's second-term appointees (nine of the 15 Cabinet-level positions are new), and no way to know if the loyalty and professionalism from the first Cabinet will carry over to the second.

 But much of politics in 2005 will be determined by the national economy and events in Iraq. Our national surveys prior to the election indicated that most Americans didn't believe the news from Iraq was as bad as the broadcast news was telling them it was (which also tells you something about the credibility of network news). Those same surveys indicate that a sustained period of chaos and loss of life in Iraq, or an international crisis in another part of the world requiring the presence of a U.S. force that we could not supply, would erode popular support for the war -- support that was seriously underestimated by Democrats during the election. Yes, the situation in Iraq is improving, but the country is not yet seen as stable, and enough bad news could make our efforts at democratization extremely unpopular.

 Our economic forecasts are rosier than in the past, based on strength in the housing market, gradually improving consumer confidence, a strong likelihood the Bush tax cuts will be made permanent and reasonable growth in inflation. If you're surprised at seeing "inflation" on a list of positive economic indicators, think for a minute about what inflation brings with it: increases in pricing power for manufacturers; increases in wages for workers; and higher returns for retirees living on fixed-income investments. The biggest long-term problem facing the economy is the deficit, which is starting to drag down the prospects of sustained growth. But don't discount the possibilities of another terrorist attack or another corporate meltdown such as Enron to weaken an economy that has turned the corner and stepped on the gas.

 There's also a change coming in the nature of advertising, and, as with most other recent changes, it's because of the Internet. Our surveys in 2004 indicated a significant number of people saw most political TV ads not on television, but as attachments to e-mail messages or on Web sites. The ability to put a 30-second television spot online is well within the means of most of the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, and as software and available bandwidth improve, look for an increase in the number of commercials (and parodies of commercials) being zapped between friends. Online and e-mailed commercials don't mean the end of political commercials yet, but it will likely reduce the number of them you'll have to watch on television. And this trend will start to accelerate with regard to how younger people get their news. The big three networks, the cable conglomerates and newspaper publishers must hasten their adaptation to the Web-dominated world.

 2005 may be a year in which technology, supported by a stable political environment and a solid economy, boosts us into the next boom.