Jan 1, 2021 - Politics & Policy

What we're watching in 2021

Illustration of binoculars with 2021 reflected in the lenses
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new phase in the battle against the coronavirus and the beginning of Joe Biden's presidency will dominate the news this year, but there will be plenty of other changes ahead that will shape our lives, too.

  • Here’s what Axios’ newsletter authors and expert reporters will be watching — from the future of the economy and Big Tech's antitrust fights to the next stages in developing artificial intelligence and biotechnology. (Sign up for their newsletters here.)

Politics: Leaving aside foreign policy unknowns, the success of the Biden presidency depends on his ability to achieve compromise with his old colleagues in the Senate. Yes, he knows the rhythms and the rules, but he's only served with about a third of current senators. He may be speaking a language that has fundamentally changed since he's left the body. — Hans Nichols

Business: We're watching to see if the real economy and capital markets will narrow their wild divergence. Maybe that means stocks pull back a bit, or maybe vaccines spark this millennium’s version of the Roaring ‘20s (which came just after the 1918 Pandemic). — Dan Primack

Tech: A flurry of antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook ended 2020 and will set the agenda for the new year. One big question: Whether additional actions against Apple and/or Amazon follow. — Ina Fried

Media: Throughout the pandemic, local news took a severe hit, with most outlets having to lay off staff, consolidate, or shed historic parts of their legacy, like print products and newsrooms. In 2021, we'll be on the lookout for whether new commercial investments can start to rebuild the local news ecosystem in a more sustainable way. — Sara Fischer

Health care: The coronavirus pandemic will continue to be the world's biggest story, with attention in the U.S. shifting to vaccine distribution and uptake. The Biden administration has promised a dramatically different approach to the pandemic than the Trump administration, but baked-in political attitudes may hamper Biden's attempts to bring the virus under control. — Caitlin Owens

Energy: I’m watching how oil companies navigate big and overlapping challenges. Demand and prices are recovering but still hobbled by COVID-19. Investor confidence in the long-term outlook is low. Pressure to act faster on climate is high. And in the U.S., Biden’s team will begin work on new regulations and restrictions. — Ben Geman

World: I’ll be watching the fate of the Iran deal, the end of the road for Angela Merkel after 15 years in power in Germany, the battle to define the future of Ethiopia, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s fight for political and legal survival in Israel. But the challenge that will define 2021 is distributing vaccines not just to wealthy countries, but to people all over the world. — Dave Lawler

China: The big story is what the Biden administration's China policy will be. The Trump administration broke with decades of U.S. policy towards China, rejecting engagement and embracing a more directly confrontational approach. Yet this approach, while criticized, has broad bipartisan support. Will the Biden administration turn back the clock, or continue to build on Trump's approach? — Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian

Science: We'll be watching to see if the world's almost singular focus on the pandemic in 2020 sets back science in other fields. We'll also be tracking what scientific research and development the Biden administration prioritizes and how it pursues international collaboration in science amidst geopolitical tensions. — Alison Snyder

Future: 2020 saw an acceleration in automation and startling new breakthroughs in AI and biotechnology, driven in part by the need to respond to the pandemic. I’ll be watching to see whether 2021 becomes the year that the economic value of those advances are consolidated, launching us into our own sci-fi version of the Roaring ‘20s. — Bryan Walsh

Race/Justice: Communities across the country have formed "racial healing" committees to decide how they will deal with fallen racist monuments, tensions with police and people of color, and damage caused by violent protests. The ideas could change conditions for communities of color, but a lack of action could create tension as young demonstrators call for a drastic transformation. — Russell Contreras

Work: This year will be the test of whether the transformational changes we saw in work and the workplace will stick. I'll be watching which companies call their vaccinated employees back to the office and which ones embrace remote work for the long haul. 2021 will also tell us how much of the pandemic's damaging effects on workplace equity will carry on after the worst is behind us. — Erica Pandey

Cities: Those outstretched palms from mayors across the nation are gesturing to be filled with federal money for everything from bare necessities — like paying teachers, cops and firefighters — to wave-of-the-future stuff like smart technology for broadband connections and traffic grids. — Jennifer A. Kingson

Transportation: Global travel could begin to see a comeback later in 2021 as people get vaccinated and international borders reopen. But the longer the coronavirus rages, more airlines and related travel industries could tumble into bankruptcy — or go out of business for good. — Joann Muller

Space: The Biden administration will have a major influence on NASA as the space agency pushes to send people back to the surface of the Moon. We'll also be watching how the incoming administration handles the new Space Force and what priority it puts on space policy and support for the industry. — Miriam Kramer

Sports: The most important storyline will be how sports leagues continue to navigate the pandemic, and the eventual return of fans. When will we see full stadiums again? The end of the summer, as Anthony Fauci has suggested? Sooner? Later? — Kendall Baker

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