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Hub Exclusive: With less than six months until the election, Donald Trump leads in seven crucial swing states

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In the lead-up to the November 2024 U.S. presidential election, The Hub and Pollara are teaming up to provide insights into what Canadians make of the race as it unfolds. Pollara senior advisor Andre Turcotte will provide exclusive polling and analysis to Hub readers, helping them understand how fellow Canadians are making sense of the election and its implications for Canada.

While the public is captivated by the sordid tale of Donald Trump’s hush money trial currently ongoing in New York City, taking in the unsavoury details of alleged payments by the former president to a Playboy Playmate and to a porn star, they seemingly haven’t been turned off by the ordeal. In fact, the man facing trial is slowly pulling ahead in the 2024 U.S. presidential race. 

In January, Pollara Strategic Insights began a partnership with Emerson College to look at the U.S. presidential election from both a Canadian and U.S. perspective. Emerson College recently completed an extensive survey of Americans between April 25-29, 2024 in seven swing states. A total of 7,000 registered U.S. voters were interviewed for this study and the results are clear. In short, Trump leads in all seven swing states.

A lot of attention has been given to the fact that at the national level, Biden and Trump are in a virtual dead heat in popular support. According to the latest data at the polling aggregation website FiveThirtyEight, Trump stands at 41.4 percent, virtually tied with Biden at 40.7 percent. Emerson College’s latest national findings from April 2024 show Trump at 46 percent, barely ahead of Biden at 43 percent.

While the national picture is interesting, it may not tell us much useful about the election’s outcome. The U.S. presidential election will be won or lost in a few key swing states. When the focus is put where it matters—as in the latest Emerson College polling—a more definite picture emerges.

At this moment in time, Trump leads by five points in North Carolina, four points in Arizona, three points in Georgia, and two points both in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump is ahead by only one point in Michigan and Nevada. Granted, all those leads are small, but we cannot dismiss that Trump is indeed leading in every one of those crucial states. Back in 2020, Biden won six of those seven states, only losing to Trump in North Carolina.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

When we introduce the complicating issue of third-party candidates in the election, especially the candidacy of Robert Kennedy Jr, the situation gets even rosier for the former president. While third-party candidates have no discernible impact in Arizona and Michigan, adding RFK Jr. on the ballot benefits Trump in the other five states. Specifically, Trump’s lead over Biden increases from five to nine points in North Carolina, three to six points in Georgia, two to five points in Wisconsin, and two to four points in Pennsylvania. Moreover, with RFK Jr. on the ballot in Nevada, this race is no longer a toss-up and Trump enjoys a comfortable five-point lead in the Silver State. To put it plainly, the candidacy of RFK Jr. is hurting Biden more than Trump.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

These findings are significant because if this holds, Trump will likely get 311 Electoral College votes, well ahead of the 270 he needs to get back to the White House and five more than Biden won in 2020. 

Not enough attention is given to the state of the election from the perspective of the Electoral College. Without getting into too many details, it is important to remember that the U.S. president is not elected based on the popular vote but through the arcane Electoral College system. The Electoral College, as used in the U.S. for electing the president and vice president, assigns each state a specific number of electors based on its congressional representation (senators plus representatives). These electors, selected by the state’s political parties, subsequently vote for the president and vice president. The candidate securing the majority of electoral college votes nationwide is declared the president-elect. This system is designed to alleviate the dominance of the more populous states over smaller ones. This is the election result that will matter on November 5, 2024, and Trump has a solid lead. This has ramifications for Republicans and Democrats.

What it means for Republicans

Some establishment Republicans may be uneasy with Trump’s style and rhetoric, but most have come to accept that the former president is effectively tapping into public sentiment. A Pew Research Study conducted in January 2024 shows that many Americans in general and Republicans in particular lack trust in many institutions. Specifically, most Republicans have a negative perception of large corporations, banks and other financial institutions, technology companies, public schools, labour unions, and colleges and universities. 

With his oft-repeated pledge to “drain the swamp,” Trump has positioned himself as the champion of ordinary Americans against nefarious institutions which are seen as having a negative impact on “the ways things are going in the country these days.” Maybe even more effective is Trump’s promise to be “the voice” of his supporters. In another Pew Research Study, this one conducted in July 2023, 85 percent of Americans say, “Most elected officials don’t care what people like them think”. Moreover, only 4 percent of Americans think the political system is working well, and 59 percent are angry at the federal government. Trump is promising to speak for them, and many Americans are believing him.

What it means for Democrats

Denial is known as the first stage in the grieving process and Democrats are solidly ensconced in that sentiment. Fair or unfair, Biden is a liability. The recent Emerson College Poll shows that a majority of voters in every one of the seven swing states disapprove of his performance. And to reiterate, Biden won in six of those seven states in 2020.

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

While “age” is often mentioned as the main reason Americans have reservations about re-electing Joe Biden, his campaign has made strategic mistakes that have contributed to his lagging vote support. For instance, while Trump is the voice of disaffected Americans, Biden appears tone-deaf to their plight. If we take the cost-of-living issue as an example, Trump is quick to tell Americans that “he feels their pain” and promises to bring things back to what they were when he was president. For his part, Biden tends to lecture Americans. He tells them their pain must be imaginary since the cost of living is decreasing despite how Americans may be feeling. Pointing to aggregate economic data is a poor substitute for daily experience. 

Maybe more damaging is the apparent decision by Biden and his team to let other institutions do the heavy work for them in the election. The Biden team gambled that the court system would do enough damage to Trump’s image that they wouldn’t have to go after their opponent. They have abdicated their responsibility to bring the fight to Trump on the assumption that a former President sitting in court would be disqualifying. Once again, Trump has turned this to his advantage, presenting himself as the persecuted rather than the prosecuted. 

Predicting the outcome of any election is fraught with risk, especially six months in advance. But the purpose of an early look at vote intent is not to predict but to illuminate. For Republicans, the data confirms that for better or worse, Trump has a clear path to the White House and that staying the bumpy course is electorally beneficial. For Democrats, time is running out and a serious course correction is needed. They need to move to the next stage in the grieving process: anger. Democrats must recognize that relying on external forces and institutions to secure victory in November is doomed to fail. If not, American voters may well move Democrats along to the final stage of grief: acceptance.

A major loss of income for mothers is driving Canada’s record-low fertility

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The dire earnings impact from Canadian women having children is one of the major factors influencing their fertility decisions and Canada’s now lowest-ever fertility rate.

Canadian women are now experiencing on average a nearly 40 percent drop in earnings in the first five years after giving birth, which experts say is a leading factor in the record-low birthrate of 1.33 children per woman. 

“It really boils down to what is the cost that mom is taking on being a parent? It’s not dads taking on that cost,” says Tammy Schirle, a professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The female-male disparity in income loss is demonstrated in the two maps of Canada below, both using an identical colour scale.

This data demonstrates that Canadian women who have children can experience significant income loss over time. 

This January, Statistics Canada reported that this country’s 2022 fertility rate fell to an average of 1.33 children per woman, representing a year-over-year decline of 7.4 percent, the greatest since the 7.6 percent decline in 1972, during the tail end of the baby boom.

Transitory economic trends such as inflation and recessions have had a low historical impact on national fertility rates. What really mattered, says Schirle, is the 1960s shift in social norms and new choices presented to women regarding family planning in the form of the birth control pill. Both came with women gaining control over their own fertility and economic prospects.

“I tend to focus on that choice: what are (women’s) opportunities and what are their constraints?" she describes.

The maps above define those constraints. It uses the “Child Atlas of Child Penalties,” a dataset published this March by University of Calgary economic professors Stefan Staubli and Jean-William Laliberté and PhD student Sencer Karademir. 

According to their research, the national average change in earnings in the first five years of parenthood are decreasing for both women and men, but by stark degrees: a decrease of nearly 40 percent (39.1 percent) for women and just 0.5 percent for men.

Given that the average Canadian earns $300,000 over five years, women would thus earn $120,000 less in the first five years of parenthood (before taxes). Men would only earn $1,500 less. 

New mothers' greatest earning declines and new fathers' greatest earning increases in the first five years of parenthood are seen most starkly in Western Canada. Southern Manitoba is experiencing the greatest average earnings decrease for new Canadian mothers, by nearly 60 percent. Sudbury has both Ontario’s greatest average earnings decline for mothers (-42 percent) and increase for fathers (+8.6 percent). Saskatchewan is home to Canada’s greatest average increase in earnings for new fathers (+11.5 percent). 

Most cases of income loss, says Schirle, can be attributed to instances where social norms and childcare institutions aren’t strong enough to support women’s decision to work after having a child. Even mothers who immediately return to work are still compelled to decline competitive yet time-consuming positions to instead make time for childcare in a manner that men are not. 

“If you have a job where you have to stick around until the boss leaves…it may have been higher paying, but you can’t take that job,” she says. The same is true for shift or weekend work Schirle adds.

Last year, Harvard professor Claudia Goldin won a Nobel economics prize for her work studying the trends above: that even if an American man and a woman are on an identical education and career trajectory, the introduction of children will permanently reduce the income of the woman significantly more than man.

The greatest long-run cost, Schirle says, is to women’s pensions and saving ambitions. A 2012 University of California study showed that an expensive housing market can delay women having their first child by three to four years. 

“The main cost of children is really the forgone earnings,” corroborates Jean-William Laliberté, one of the academics behind the “Child Atlas of Child Penalties” study.

“It’s not what you pay out of pocket, but the money that you would have realised but now you don’t because you don’t have the ability to work as much as before,” he says, describing the “child penalty” of his study. 

Giada Gambino uses her smartphone as her mother Aggie and twin sister Giuliana look on while they work on math worksheets at the dining room table in their home Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Spring, Texas. Michael Wyke/AP Photo.

Mothers that perform the best when it comes to retaining their earnings can be found in Quebec. Laliberté points to Quebec’s childcare policies including its universal model introduced in 1997. These policies, he says, make it significantly easier for mothers to work in higher-paid positions. Particularly mandatory 3-5 p.m. after-school care in elementary schools. 

The “Quebec Model” of childcare and family benefits inspired the federal Liberal government’s $10-a-day childcare program, says Laliberté, which was pitched following the COVID-19 pandemic to see mothers remain in work. The program however has faced major rollout issues.

However, while certain government policies may allow mothers to retain greater earnings, other studies suggest that these early childhood support programs actually have negative effects on kids, which persist into adolescence.

“The Long-Run Impacts of a Universal Child Care Program,” published by Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber, and Kevin Milligan in a 2019 edition of the American Economic Journal concluded that Quebec’s policy contributed somewhat to a negative impact on children's non-cognitive skills. 

Effects included anxiety, aggression, poor behaviour and attention, or later-in-life criminality. Although the causes of the program’s poor outcomes weren’t the subject of their study, Milligan says they could include the stress of having two parents entirely engaged in work and their reduced ability to coordinate doctor visits or other means of external care. 

“The evidence is pretty strong that the Quebec childcare program had a really large impact on women being able to work. From that, you can draw a direct line to an impact on women’s role in the family, and also in their life path in having a stronger attachment to the labour force. That’s an important thing I would like to view as positive,” says Milligan. 

“On the other hand, we and other authors have found some negative impacts on the non-cognitive outcomes [of children],” he adds. “I think there are ways to think about the design of the actual program itself to account for the fact that there might be risks of [poor behaviours].”