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It’s that time of the year to start making sense of the next: predictions. And there is no subject about which this timeworn tradition is as corny but necessary as politics. As one year of agendas, elections and narratives closes, another year dogs us with uncertainty and nervousness. In the end-of-year reflections, we force ourselves into part-futile predeterminations and part-pretty-damn-smart forecasting.

If you think political crystal balls seem naive or trivial, think again. Without them, we forgo critical preparation for what awaits us on the horizon. Even flawed predictions give us nuggets of key information we probably didn’t know before, and predictions not so half-bad help us cope with any anxieties we might harbor about the approaching new year. In this case, any bad vibes are justified: 2014 was that depressing a year.

2015 is the staging ground for 2016, so we need as many predictions as we can find. President Barack Obama might be heading into it with better polling numbers—CNN now finds him at 48 percent—but Republicans are now in charge of both the House and Senate, a reality that promises many headaches for the term-ending president, including another shutdown showdown.

Midterm elections may be over, but a Democratic Party in hot-mess disarray will be spending most of 2015 remaking itself. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush might be their party establishments’ hands-down favorites for 2016 presidential-nominee nods, but Clinton heads into the new year already rescripting in an effort to outmaneuver Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) rising populism, while Bush will have a packed field of outliers and perpetrating, anti-Washington extremists to worry about.

The economy is recovering—but only main indicators like the stock market, lower unemployment and dropping gas prices are healthy, while income inequality, wage disparities, underemployment and rising poverty continue to nag Americans into a brooding pessimism about the state of things.

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All of the above will be happening as the #BlackLivesMatter movement lurches into its second year, struggling to find a shrewd political strategy that gives it much more to leverage than raw emotion in the heat of the moment. And, oh yeah, we’ll more than likely get our first black female attorney general. But overall, it’ll be a weird year.

That’s why The Take tapped into our network of expert Yodas on the subject to give us their thoughts on what’s ahead.

Andra Gillespie, Emory University (@AndraGillespie): Expect partisan posturing, gridlock and a modicum of compromise on the most vital pieces of legislation. Expect establishment Republicans to continue consolidating their intraparty power in 2015 and Tea Party-identified Republicans (especially those with presidential ambitions) to rebrand themselves. We should also continue assessing the momentum from the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury protests. Have the protests borne fruit or did the murders of [New York City Police Department] Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu stop the national discussion? We’ll know if local, state and federal legislators around the country start a serious policy discussion about racial profiling and police-community relations during the upcoming legislative season.

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D.L. Chandler, Hip Hop Wired (@dlchandler123): It will be intriguing to watch the president rein in his White House over the next year as he battles an incoming and very Republican Congress. It’s literally dull on the 2016 presidential front, with only former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush forming the partisan battle lines. Nothing about those two names generates any manner of political heat. Even if these two were having a Kid ’N Play kick-step battle in debate, they don’t have the “it” factor necessary to carry an election, in my view. If it isn’t New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former first lady Hillary Clinton in the 2016 showdown, nothing else really matters. Lastly, it’s going to be all eyes on the 114th Congress, and analysts are wondering if this will yield tangible results or will hardball rule the day for anti-Obama conservatives. This is precisely the type of environment that could make or break presidential legacies, so what happens between the White House and the Hill in the coming weeks will have far greater implications down the road.

Khalilah Brown-Dean, Quinnipiac University (@KBDPHD): 2014 made clear what black folks have known for quite some time: The U.S. criminal-justice system is tragically flawed. Keep an eye on new Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who may back significant reform in the areas of police misconduct and cyberterrorism. The energy of young activists, combined with the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, will shape 2015’s emphasis on protest and politics. 

Peter Groff, former Colorado Senate president (@petercgroff): Congressional Republicans have to show they can lead and deliver, so they will find common ground on major tax reform, trade agreements and approving President Obama’s choices for attorney general and secretary of defense. If the speaker and Senate majority leader can harness the hard right on immigration and transportation infrastructure, we may see bipartisan support and passage. The emergence from the “Sit, be quiet and learn corner” of the U.S. Senate will be dominated by Cory Booker and Tim Scott. An engaged and active President Barack Obama will be touting the American “resurgence.”

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Tkeyah Lake, digital campaign strategist (@TLakeComm): 2015 will be a very different battleground for both political parties as higher stakes set a precedent for the 2016 presidential election. The new battle will be who can appeal to and mobilize the Hispanic vote. As the Latino population grows to 17 percent of the population, so will the number of Hispanics leaning conservative. After all, according to a Pew Research study, 44 percent of Hispanics favored same-sex marriage, while 40 percent of the population thought that abortion should be illegal. It’s a glimpse into the often-conflicting stances Hispanics take on social and political issues. No wonder that President Obama has already started the 2015 “Who wins the Hispanic vote” race by using his executive order for immigration reform and re-establishing a relationship with Cuba. Coincidence? Nope, he just wants the head start.

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.