As we begin the new year, CNN Opinion has once again asked a fearless group of contributors to make predictions about some of the biggest political, cultural and sports-related moments to come.
Though many of the previous year’s contributors successfully predicted key political and sporting outcomes, only two correctly guessed the winners of nearly all of the entertainment questions we posed — Raul Reyes and Holly Thomas.
From predicting “Nomadland” would win the Oscar for best picture to betting Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” would win the Grammy for album of the year, Reyes and Thomas proved themselves the most formidable oracles of the year. This was particularly impressive given that movie theaters and music venues remained closed for much of 2020 — and the opportunities to see films and listen to live music were limited.
Will their success last into the new year? Reyes and Thomas largely diverged on their 2022 entertainment picks. While Reyes is predicting “West Side Story,” Steven Spielberg’s first foray into musicals, will take home the Oscar, Thomas argues the buzzworthy film “Don’t Look Up” is better positioned for the top cinematic award. “Anyone who’s anyone in Hollywood is in it,” she explains.
But the most popular selection this year is “Belfast,” a film that chronicles the life of a working-class family in Northern Ireland in 1969. Seven of our prognosticators are betting on the film’s moving narrative, compelling cinematography and young breakout star, Jude Hill.
A political storm is brewing
Last year, 10 out of 18 contributors correctly predicted that Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock would win their runoffs for the US Senate in Georgia. This year, 10 out of 18 of our contributors (though not the same 10) predict Democrats will suffer a crushing defeat during the 2022 midterms. If “history is the guide here,” writes Elliot Williams, “it’s hard to see how it’s not Republicans winning control of both houses.” Indeed, with rare exception, the party in the White House tends to lose congressional seats in the midterm elections.
But other variables are compounding the Democrats’ electoral problems. Growing inflation, the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and Biden’s sluggish approval ratings present a perfect political storm for liberals running for reelection. Based on those factors alone, Scott Jennings concludes Republicans will “sweep” both the House and the Senate.
Ghitis, who was among those to correctly forecast the Georgia Senate races last year, writes that while she, too, predicts Republicans will take control of both chambers, “the margin will be minimal — giving every member of Congress enormous power.” And her political prognostications may be worth paying extra attention to, since Ghitis came closest to predicting Biden’s approval rating at the end of 2021 — 45%, according to CNN’s poll of polls.
This year, Ghitis and 11 others are predicting Biden’s approval rating will hover in the 40-percentage range, as he attempts to navigate the country through the next phase of pandemic recovery. Nicole Hemmer, who predicts the President’s approval rating at the end of 2022 will be 48%, says at least he will be in familiar company: “Obama’s approval was at 48% at the end of 2010, even after the shellacking he took in the midterms.”
Music that divides us, TV that unites us
Our oracles are most divided on which album will win the Grammy’s top prize. Many chose Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour,” but Lil Nas X’s “Montero” and Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga’s “Love for Sale” also were mentioned. Laura Coates cites her children’s preference for playing Rodrigo’s album nonstop, while Thomas says she was sold on “Sour” as soon as she heard “Drivers License,” the wildly popular track from Rodrigo’s debut studio album.
Roxanne Jones thinks “Montero” deserves the top prize. She writes that Lil Nas X’s album is “thought-provoking, bold and sexy. Lil Nas isn’t just a champion for the LGBTQ+ community, he’s a champion for the world I want to see.” And while Jeff Yang doubts Lil Nas X will ultimately be victorious, he agrees with Jones, saying, “No one has challenged the pop establishment more.”
Reyes says Bennett and Gaga should win. He writes the Grammys will have to recognize their “vocal chemistry” and award them best album as “a sweet coda to Bennett’s incredible career.” Yang thinks Reyes may just be right — if for no other reason than a “sentimental” one.
For all the division over the film and music awards, there is a surprising consensus around the shows that will take the Emmys. More than three-quarters of our contributors expect “Succession” to win for best drama. As Ghitis explains, “After offering the entertaining psyches of damaged souls, along with the palliative claim that the uber-rich and powerful are not really happy,” the drama on HBO (which, like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia) has got to win the top prize. Almost as many writers expect “Ted Lasso” to win best comedy for the second year in a row.
Team America goes for the gold… again
If there is one question our oracles are good at answering, it’s which country will win the most medals at the Olympics. Nearly all of 2021’s contributors correctly chose the United States as the biggest winner at the Tokyo summer games.
While a majority of them think the United States will once again claim the top prize at the Beijing Winter Games, Alice Stewart, who has an impressive track record of choosing sports winners, believes Norway will come first in the medal count. She writes, “As much as I’d love to see the United States at the top, I have to go with Norway [on this one].” Reyes argues the Scandinavian country is a “winter sports powerhouse.”
And if there is one sport that our contributors can agree the United States will not win, it’s soccer. Half of them believe Brazil will triumph at the World Cup in Qatar next November, while the rest are mostly divided between France and England. Thomas, the lone Brit among our contributors, is rooting for her own country, in part because she likes the team’s manager, Gareth Southgate. She reasons, he “has put together a brilliant group of young players, who are as lovely as the fans make them out to be… The natural next step is a World Cup win.”
There is a season for every team — or is there?
With the Major League Baseball lockout ongoing, it remains unclear if and when the 2022 season will begin. But assuming the owners and players are able to reach some sort of agreement, Alice Stewart, who successfully predicted the Atlanta Braves would win last year’s World Series, believes the Houston Astros will be this year’s world champion team.
She is the only contributor to pick a Texas team. Paul Callan is betting the Los Angeles Dodgers, who last won the World Series in 2020, will come out on top because they “have a solid and balanced roster ready to roll.” Sara Stewart — along with three others — has her sights set on the New York Mets. She explains that “in pro-baseball, money often buys happiness, and they just threw a whole bunch of it at pitcher Max Scherzer.”
As for the NFL, nine of our contributors believe quarterback Tom Brady is unbeatable and will lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to another Super Bowl victory. As Williams puts it, “Brady makes all of us 40-somethings look bad and will keep winning Super Bowls until he’s 70.” And while that may be a slight exaggeration, it’s clear that our football oracles are looking to the past in making predictions about the future.
That said, a mighty but vocal minority believes the Green Bay Packers will be the 2022 Super Bowl champions. Joey Jackson writes Aaron Rodgers, the team’s quarterback, will “redeem himself” in February, when the big game is played, while Callan argues the Packers are “long overdue” for a Super Bowl win.
Along came Omicron
Nearly two years into the pandemic, the world is still struggling to curtail the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. The recent emergence of a highly transmissible new variant — Omicron — has only complicated those efforts.
It has also added more uncertainty to the employment market. For the final question of this year’s Crystal Ball, we asked our contributors when, if at all, the US will return to pre-pandemic employment numbers. While a majority of our contributors think the US labor market will recover in 2022, there are those like Thomas, who predict a recovery by July — with one caveat. “Even when unemployment hits pre-pandemic levels, it will probably disguise a great deal of lasting damage,” including people in “part-time work or low-paid work,” she says.
Meanwhile, others, like Jill Filipovic and Jones, predict that it could take until 2023 — at the earliest — before the labor market fully rebounds. As Jones explains, “the country is in a different place post-pandemic,” and it will take significantly more time before out-of-work Americans are able to rejoin some of the industries most impacted by Covid-19.
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Finding the humanity amid the pain
In the final weeks of 2021, Covid-19 reminded us of its persistence as the fast-spreading Omicron variant upended travel and other plans around the world. Amid this latest surge, it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the group that has perhaps faced the most challenges during this pandemic — health care workers. Now, with rising caseloads and hospitalizations, these medical professionals are being pushed to their limits once again.
While many doctors and nurses are physically and emotionally exhausted, they still remain committed to treating those who seek their care. Michigan-based emergency room nurse Audrey Wendt, who recently lost her unvaccinated uncle to Covid-19, said as much in a recent Facebook post: “My beloved community, I want YOU to know… On our backs we will carry you. No matter your beliefs, your choices, your lifestyle, your past. Our legs grow tired, and we beg for your help, but we will continue to carry you until this race is over, my friends.”
When asked if that same kindness really extended to everyone — regardless of their politics and likely vaccination status — Wendt, in an interview with CNN Opinion’s Kirsi Goldynia, emphasized her commitment was unwavering. “I’ve held so many people’s hands while they are dying, and nobody’s talking about who they voted for,” she said. “It pains me that in all of the political talk, we can’t see a bigger picture here.”
As we work to turn Covid-19 from pandemic to endemic, Wendt’s lesson — about finding the humanity in one another — is worth carrying into the new year.