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Do Americans Actually Move to Canada After Elections?


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"That's it, I'm moving to Canada." So goes the liberal response every time the Democratic candidate loses a presidential election. The prospect of four years of Republican rule makes America's northerly neighbor — where everyone has health care, gay marriage is legal, financial regulations are strict, and the death penalty is abolished — seem like a sanctuary of progressive values. However, conservatives in recent years have also jumped on the Canadian bandwagon, claiming that a victory for President Obama would necessitate packing up a U-Haul. (The concept, paradoxically enough, erupted in conservative circles after the Supreme Court upheld Obama's universal health care law.) Here, a guide to this enduring quirk of American politics:

Can Americans actually move to Canada?
Yes... but Americans obviously can't show up at the border and expect a welcome mat.

The main ways foreigners become Canadian residents are by marrying a Canadian citizen or receiving a job offer. Other options include possessing work expertise that is lacking in Canada, or promising to invest a lot of cash in a new Canadian business. Those fleeing America could also theoretically claim refugee status based on a "fear of persecution." However, despite the various doomsday scenarios concocted by both liberals and conservatives, it would be a stretch to make such a claim just because your presidential candidate didn't win.

Do any Americans actually try to emigrate after elections?
A small number do. However, "threats to move northward end up falling flat as Americans confront the hoops they need to jump through to get in," says Emily Sohn at Discovery News. "Statistically, numbers of immigrants don't actually peak every four years." The last time there was a significant immigration wave from America to Canada was during the Vietnam War, when many fled to escape the draft.

Is Canada really a political haven for liberals?
Canada has actually been led by the Conservative Party since 2006. However, like their counterparts in Britain, Canadian conservatives are veritable lefties compared to America's Republican Party. As for American conservatives thinking about leaving home, they would probably end up as part of a tiny political minority up north  — a full 72 percent of Canadians say they would support Obama in the election, compared with a measly 10 percent for Romney.

What do Canadians think about this phenomenon?
The responses are varied, "but the trend seems to be that Canadians find this funny and a bit flattering," says Max Fisher at The Washington Post. "Who wouldn't enjoy being seen as the preferable alternative to the world's richest and most powerful country?" However, some Canadians are not too keen on an American invasion. If disappointed Americans come north, "every Canadian I know will take exile in Florida," Craig Offman, an editor at Canada's The Globe and Mail, jokingly tells The New York Times. "A massive influx of Americans would generate widespread fear and terror."

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?
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The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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