Obama's re-election looks an ever-safer bet

US president opens up a five-point lead over Romney in latest national poll.

Despite his rather underwhelming convention speech and Friday's mediocre US jobs figures, Barack Obama is looking an ever-safer bet for re-election. The latest Gallup national poll gives him a five-point lead over Mitt Romney (49-44), the largest he has enjoyed since early July, compared to a one-point lead before the Democratic Convention. Worse for Romney, since the Gallup poll is based on a rolling seven-day average (meaning that some of it was conducted before the key speeches last week), Obama's real lead could be even larger.

In addition, approval with Obama has risen from 45% before the convention to 50%, the level that typically guarantees re-election. Significantly, this is a far larger bounce than that received by Romney, who saw support for him rise by a statistically insignificant one point after the Republican convention.

Finally, Obama has also extended his lead in Ohio, the most likely "tipping point" state, (see Nicky Woolf's on-the-ground report for the NS). Overnight, the first Ohio poll since the convention gave Obama a five-point lead over Romney (50-45), his largest since early May.

Barring some unexpected foreign or economic crisis, Romney's only remaining chance to change the state of the race will come with the presidential TV debates, the first of which is on 3 October. But it will be worth watching the polls closely for the next fortnight. As a study by political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien showed, the candidate who leads in the polls two weeks after the conventions has won the popular vote in the last 15 presidential elections.

Barack Obama waves at a campaign event in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.