This is the 25th in a series of 32 posts—each one a section from Euro RSCG Worldwide PR’s “The Big Little Book of Nexts,” which in total features more than 150 sightings for 2012. It’s the biggest, most robust annual trends report ever from @erwwpr CEO Marian Salzman and her trendspotting team. To download the entire report, go to the Brainfood tab at eurorscgpr.com.
With an election looming and the troops headed home from Iraq, D.C. is buzzing and the world is all ears. If you look at the candidates challenging Obama on the Republican side, one thing is apparent: Religion is being brandished as a major propaganda tool. From Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Michele Bachmann, there have never been more candidates standing on religion as a political platform. And according to recent research, all this talk of religion is out of touch with America today; not only did the percentage of people with great confidence in religious leaders decline from 35 percent to less than 25 percent between 1973 and 2008, but fewer people are going to church these days. Almost 20 percent of Americans say they have no religion, compared with 3 percent in 1957, and only 25 percent of Americans attend weekly religious services. Right along with all this God talk, the trend shaping up on the 2012 Republican ticket is the Mormon factor, with Mitt Romney looking like the one to beat for the GOP’s presidential-nominee spot. But many of us are mystified by what it means to be a Mormon—call it the “Big Love” effect, as fans of the HBO show about Mormon polygamists are left with visions of sister wives and cult followers. Look for the Mormon church to launch a major PR campaign that will preach its gospel and assert that, in spite of negative perceptions, the group is sober, conservative, well-educated and focused on family values. Romney’s brand of calm, though boring at times, could be perceived as a beacon in the current storm of American politics. Which brings us to another buzzed-about topic in D.C. and beyond: to tea or not to tea. You see, the tea party’s approval rating is sliding. In April 2010, a survey conducted by The New York Times and CBS News found that 18 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of the tea party, while 21 percent had a favorable opinion and 46 percent had not heard enough. Less than a year and a half later, tea party supporters slipped to 20 percent, while opponents increased to 40 percent, with many Americans practically allergic to the firebrand rhetoric and fact bending of partiers such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. With fewer of us putting faith in religious leaders, it’s no surprise that this distrust would trickle down to politics. Sure, desperate times call for desperate measures, but the tea party’s extreme views feel out of step with young voters and those who are uncomfortable with Christ as politico, even if talk of less government and less taxes (the tea party’s raison d’être) might appeal to some. In the other corner is the Occupy movement, introduced on Wall Street as a grassroots protest that many have called aimless. Nonetheless, Occupy has mustered enough collective anger to spark action countrywide, with similar protests sprouting up from Denver to Oakland, New Orleans to Miami. The Occupy movement lacks leadership but speaks to the fact that regardless of what issue we’re opposed to—not enough reform for big business, the disruption of the middle class, the lack of jobs, etc.—many are fed up with the way things are going and, on the heels of the protests in the Middle East, they’re not going to take it anymore. With the widest income gap in America since the late 1920s and college grads unable to find jobs yet strapped to student loans, the dissent is real and could have resonance with many Americans who feel that the American dream has turned into a nightmare. With that dream continuing to fade and noted villains such as Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi now dead, look for Americans to experience Red Scare 2.0. This time our fears will turn to China, specifically, our anxiety that we are falling behind this superpower to watch in everything from technology to infrastructure to globalization. Michael Mandelbaum of Johns Hopkins University claims that our tension about China reflects our discontent with ourselves, and he encourages Americans not to worry about what China is doing, instead focusing on our values and traditions so that we can rise again. But look for more Americans to distrust China. In the meantime, our next president will have to focus on everything from technology to debt gone wild to climate change. In terms of marketing for this next election, none can yet touch Obama’s from the last election. His army of hope, complete with posters by Shepard Fairey and a killer social media campaign, resonated with the new generation of digital natives who related not just to the positive message and cool visuals but also to how the message was relayed. The message will be social again, with video content figuring heavily (think Hulu and YouTube) and designed to reach a nation of would-be voters. And social media will surely pack a punch: Mitt Romney is the first Republican candidate to welcome a digital director, Zac Moffatt. Look for most Americans to feel compelled to share thoughts about the race through forwarded links. According to Karen Jagoda, president of the nonpartisan E-Voter Institute, “Nearly 40 percent of women aged 55 and over forward links to friends and family about political issues via e-mail or text message.” One topic that heavy-handed link forwarders will surely pass on to friends and family: GMO woes. When Obama was a candidate, he promised to “let folks know if their food has been genetically modified, because Americans should know what they’re buying,” and with more and more emphasis on organic and locally grown foods, the Food and Drug Administration is considering measures to label genetically modified foods (which many organic supporters call “Frankenfood”; it’s even in the dictionary). They’d better get to work: The Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that 80 percent of processed foods now contain genetically modified ingredients. There’s reason for organic food champions such as Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farm to be concerned: From 1999 to 2009, says Food & Water Watch, “$547 million was spent on lobbying and campaign contributions to ease GE [genetic engineering] regulatory oversight, push GE approvals and prevent GE labeling.” The same study also outlines potential risks of GE foods, from increased allergies and the rise of so-called superweeds to “unknown long-term health effects in humans” and ethical concerns and non-GE-crop contamination. Still another study mined the cord blood of pregnant Canadian women and found that 80 percent contains a pesticide put into GMO corn by Monsanto. Regardless of what issue has you up at night, look for 2012-13 to be a pivotal time for America, its leadership and its place on the world stage.