John Zogby’s Crystal Ball

by Timothy Lutts

I originally wrote this in September 2008, and nearly five years later, the major points still seem accurate, if a little more obvious. My only quibble might be that the red state-blue-state paradigm remains alive and well. Hopefully, Zogby was just early on that call. (April 2013)

Today I want to focus on a fellow who’s made a career of predicting the future, John Zogby. Zogby has become a famous political pollster thanks to two factors; he’s frequently correct and he’s innovative. For example, he began the now-common process of weighting political poll results according to the respondent’s party affiliation. And today he practices online polling using a massive database that closely mirrors the population of the nation as a whole.

thewaywe'llbeAnd now he’s written a book, titled “The Way We’ll Be.”  You see, John Zogby does far more than political polls. His organization, Zogby International, will do any kind of poll for a fee.  He asks about religion, shopping habits, reading habits, travel, sexuality, parenting, values and more. And after a poll has been completed, he keeps the data around, as reference for future polls on the same subject.

The book, which I stumbled on in a bookstore recently, is mainly an analysis of trends he has detected through polling and his analysis/guess of where those trends will lead America in the years and decades ahead.

One disclaimer: Zogby is a fervent Democrat, and though he attempts to analyze data objectively, I sense that in some of his projections he has not been successful in suppressing his personal values.

Having said that, the future according to John Zogby will bring a world characterized by the following:

1. Living Within Limits

2. Embracing Diversity

3. Looking Inward

4. Demanding Authenticity

The first idea, Living Within Limits, stems from surveys that show “we are in the middle of a fundamental reorientation of the American character away from wanton consumption and toward a new global citizenry in an age of limited resources.” That’s why people buy Toyota Priuses when they can afford BMWs.

The second idea, Embracing Diversity, reflects the fact that, while “young people are less knowledgeable about facts and events than ever before…members of this generation are more networked and globally engaged than members of any similar age cohort in American history.”  Going on, “[They] want a foreign policy as inclusive and embracive as they are. They expect impediments to trade to be removed so they can shop anywhere.” Finally, Zogby found (in a survey in late 2004) solid majorities of all Americans expressing favorable views of China and Chinese products…with one exception. “Of all the many subsets we broke our results into, the only genuinely negative responses we found to both China and its products came from the members of Congress and their staffs. That’s cultural disconnect in stark relief.”

The third idea, Looking Inward, comes from surveys that show a growing appetite for satisfaction from the spiritual side of life, though not specifically from organized religion. It reflects the fact that “total household Christmas holiday spending has been in sharp decline since the mid-1990s, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Zogby explains it up this way. “People are hungry to address the nonmaterial side of their lives. They’re worn out with getting and spending; in some cases they are broken by it. They want an America that looks to the spirit as well as the pocketbook, and they want to move beyond specifically religious nostrums to get there, including specifically Christian nostrums.”

And the fourth idea, Demanding Authenticity, builds on the fact that our connected world in general—and the Internet in particular—have made it easy to find the truth about most things. As a result, anything that is not authentic–from a political leader to an advertising campaign to a TV reality show to an Olympic performer—is quickly exposed. Similarly, for every person who has a public profile on a social network site, the best policy is to be real…because the truth will very quickly be known. Says Zogby, “There’s a longing…a deep-felt need to reconnect with the truth of our lives and to disconnect from the illusions that everyone from advertisers to politicians tries to make us believe are real.” Also, “[consumers] have figured out what is false and real, what is ephemeral and what deeply matters, and now they are starting to demand that same authenticity in the products they buy, the companies they buy from, the institutions they frequent, and the people they vote for.”

Going on, Zogby predicts that the red state-blue state shorthand of political analysis will fade in the years ahead, replaced by increasingly precise tools that segment “sports fans, pet owners, international travelers, early risers, cancer survivors, heart-bypass veterans, Catholic school alumni, science majors compared to humanities majors, Mac users compared to PC users, American-car owners compared to foreign-car owners, Yahoo! browsers compared to Google browsers, single moms compared to married moms, and on and on.”

Zogby also writes:

– That support is waning for America’s role in Israel as a “fair and honest broker.”

– That globalization will continue, not just because of competitive, capitalistic forces but also because of genuine understanding and empathy for the citizens of foreign lands.

– That Americans are growing increasingly dissatisfied with their federal government.

– That the baby-boom generation “will finally force Congress to pass meaningful health care reform.”

– That environmentalism, cutting down on waste, and making do with less will grow increasingly relevant in the years ahead.

– That demand for alternative energy solutions will “eventually translate itself into funding, research, exploration, and with a little luck, reality.”

So how do you use this “intelligence” to make money?

As always, keep your eyes and your mind open. That way, when you see a trend developing that fits into this scenario, you’ll be more inclined to take it seriously, and to understand that it may have long-running potential.

For example, we’ve seen a recent trend away from buying big SUVs, and been told it’s mainly a reaction to high fuel prices. But Zogby’s analysis tells us that a longer-running trend away from excessive consumerism is likely to keep that trend in place even if fuel prices fall.

Similarly, we’ve been told that the booming demand for alternative energy solutions is also in response to high fuel prices. But Zogby’s data tells us it’s all part of a growing desire to treat the environment we live in better. Whatever your motivation, investing in Green companies will allow you to contribute to a cleaner environment and profit handsomely while doing so.