Andrews heading for third electoral win as Guy fails to build on Labor’s woes

Andrews heading for third electoral win as Guy fails to build on Labor’s woes

When Matthew Guy returned to the Liberal leadership last year, he encouraged his colleagues to look across the Nullarbor to find inspiration about what might be possible.

Strangely, his political role model was Labor Premier Mark McGowan who, like Guy, had suffered a humiliating defeat during his first stint as opposition leader only to win in a landslide the second time around.

Matthew Guy holds store in the fact that Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan lost his first election as opposition leader.Credit:Rhett Wyman

“Mark McGowan lost his first one too, and by a bigger margin than me,” Guy told 3AW last year.

Guy has always been a master of political spin. On federal election night, he told colleagues Morrison’s loss was a sign that voters were willing to dump pandemic leaders, and Daniel Andrews was next.

Many Coalition MPs believed him. Now, four weeks from polling day, it's slowly dawning on some of his most faithful backers that maybe they’ve been had.

The latest Resolve Political Monitor research, published today, shows Andrews barrelling towards a third consecutive election victory. While there has been a slight narrowing in the primary vote gap since September, the numbers paint a bleak picture for the Coalition.

Daniel Andrews is on track to win a third successive term despite a shift away from the major partiesCredit:The Age

If the election were held today, the survey suggests that not only would Labor be returned, the Coalition would be hard-pressed to pick up any seats.

It’s not as if Labor hasn’t given the Coalition plenty to work with, as if often pointed out by even Labor's own.

In four years, Victoria had the most deaths due to COVID-19, Melbourne lived through one of the world’s longest lockdowns, and we now live in the most indebted state in the country. The Andrews government has weathered a steady stream of political controversies, faced repeated corruption probes and lost ministers to political scandals.

The Coalition may not have worked out how to capitalise on Labor's woes, but voters seem to be turning away from the Andrews government which is on track to record a lower primary vote than it did in 2018.

Victoria’s lockdown is offsetting the ongoing recovery elsewhere.Credit:Getty

Instead, the Coalition has also lost ground since the last election with a primary vote of 31 per cent, a 4 per cent drop since 2018 when it faced unprecedented swings in once-safe seats.

When the Liberal Party inevitably conducts an autopsy of its campaign, it will no doubt identify a lack of volunteers, funding shortfalls, internal woes and a toxic federal brand as factors that contributed to any loss. But it would be remiss to ignore the state’s shifting demographics which remain the biggest threat to the Liberal Party’s long-term viability.

According to Kos Samaras, whose RedBridge Group provides polling to the teal campaigns, a decade ago, 56 per cent of voters in Victoria were Baby Boomers, or older. At this election, that number has dropped to 38 per cent. Millennials, who made up just 18 per cent of the voting roll in 2012, now represent 38 per cent of voters.

“They hate us,” one Liberal insider lamented this week.

The Liberals can do little to curb the birth rate or stop this demographic trend, meaning the party has few options but to refit itself to better reflect the state and ensure, as a wannabe party of government, it's fit for purpose.

Questions will also be asked about the focus of the campaign and why the Coalition's policies, many of them worthy, have failed to improve its position in voter land.

Assessing both the latest Resolve political monitor data and The Age’s own Victoria’s Agenda work, it’s clear cost-of-living concerns as well as worries about the state’s hospital and healthcare sector stand out as the top issues.

Keeping that in mind, the Parliamentary Budget Office, which is tracking election commitments, found the opposition has so far announced more than $6 billion towards health for the next four years, compared to a little over $4 billion from Labor.

The Coalition is also trying its best to offer hip-pocket relief by lifting the payroll tax threshold, offering $2 public transport and making Ubers cheaper.

None of it seems to be making one iota of a difference.

Those who make careers reading the mood of voters can dive a little deeper into the data using a technique called regression analysis to identify which issues actually have the power to persuade voters to change their votes.

By isolating the variables, it appears that voters at this election are overwhelmingly being driven by performance factors such as a track record of delivering, vision and leadership more than any one policy. And all those markers favour the Andrews government.

The only exception is economic management, which seems to be the one policy area Guy could use to shift votes in the closing weeks.

As it stands, Guy is unlikely to emulate the West Australian leader’s second-time-around success. Guy’s best bet now is to ensure his party doesn’t go the way of the WA Liberals who were reduced to just two seats in the lower house at the last state election.

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