Victoria election 2022 report card, week four: a debate, the challenge for pollsters and the sprint to the finish line

<span>Photograph: Ian Currie/AAP</span>
Photograph: Ian Currie/AAP

Margaret Simons, journalist and academic

We are down to the wire. The polls are different enough to cause anxiety all round, but they agree on the trends: an increased vote for the Greens, independents and minor parties, and a turn away from Labor – though not enough to mean defeat.

Once you get past that, the predictions are all over the place. Roy Morgan has Labor’s primary vote at 38% and the Coalition at 32.5%, with Labor well ahead on two party preferred. Resolve polling, reported by Nine newspapers, has their primary vote level at 36%, which is a rapid change from a few weeks ago – but still puts Labor ahead on two party preferred. RedBridge polling, reported by the Herald Sun, predicts the most likely result is a hung parliament, based on a seat-by-seat analysis.

Related: Confused about who to vote for? A guide to the promises made across key issues in the Victorian state election

Given the differences, I think we are entitled to be sceptical on the detail. I have trouble believing the suggestions of huge, last-minute changes in voting intentions. To credit that, we would have to believe something has happened during the last weeks of the campaign to change many people’s minds. I think we all know that is not likely to be true. But “campaign changes nothing” does not a headline make.

It’s been pretty disappointing. So many issues have not been illuminated or tackled.

The main issues remain the same as before the campaign, despite the promise of a spendathon. Negatives for the government include the state of the health system – for which, after two terms, it can’t dodge responsibility (although the media are still not holding federal governments to account for their role). Both sides have promised spending on hospitals. But nobody is listening to experts pointing out that the most important issues are about disease prevention and public health.

Other than that, it’s about whether you are prepared to back Daniel Andrews’ big-picture reckoning – that the wealth and benefits generated by the Suburban Rail Loop and other infrastructure commitments will put the bean counters and the naysayers on the wrong side of history, or whether you buy the grab bag of offerings from Matthew Guy and the assertion that the health crisis demands cancelling the rail loop and diverting the funds to hospitals.

As for debt, Guy talks about it, but has not offered a plan to tackle it. Andrews reckons it’s good debt because it is an investment. The evidence will come in after about three decades.

Corruption allegations and investigations have enmeshed the major parties. I doubt if voters think one is better than the other. Most still give Andrews good marks for the hard calls made during the pandemic, but people are looking ahead. Anxiety about the current surge in Covid cases is politically neutral, because neither side was prepared to suggest public health measures – such as compulsory mask-wearing on public transport – during the campaign.

Of course, the government will lose seats. The last election was a record win and Labor approaches the polls covered in dents and scratches, tires in need of air and the steering erratic. Guy’s campaign has been miles better than in 2018, but it has not amounted to a compelling case for change.

Who won the week: The Independent Broad‑based Anti‑corruption. Who will dare to cut its funding or weaken its powers given the workload it now has, backed up well into the term of the next government?

This week’s dux: The undecided voters at the SkyNews people’s forum. They asked questions of substance and listened to the answers. Yay for them.

This week’s dunce: The Liberal party’s vetting process for candidates. The preselection of some candidates undermines Matthew Guy’s pitch that he is safe, moderate and mainstream. How did they get it so wrong?

Tony Barry, RedBridge pollster and former Liberal party exec

In political campaigns, the opposition tries to convince voters to buy their product. Meanwhile, the government tries to convince voters not to buy their competitor’s product.

That’s why Labor spent the last week of the campaign sharpening their attack on Matthew Guy, warning of the risk of buyers’ remorse if they switch their vote to the Coalition.

Labor’s campaign this week is straight out of the party’s playbook, with claims that Guy was responsible for cuts to health spending. The Coalition responded by quoting an ABC Fact Check, which dismissed those claims. Labor then counterpunched by verballing the Coalition on the fracking of gas.

This strategy is usually clever politics, but Labor is at risk of looking desperate in the same way that the Morrison government did in its dying days. That’s because Guy has mostly neutralised perceived Liberal weaknesses. He’s promising more for health, ambitious action on climate change and hasn’t bought into any of the culture war debates.

Andrews is one of the shrewdest and most brilliant politicians of his generation. But by his elevated standards, he’s not had a great campaign.

With the premier continuing to lose altitude, the key question now is whether he will reach the runway in time.

But on the eve of the election, it’s hard to see the electoral arithmetic to support a Coalition win. Although the odds of a Labor and Greens minority government are shortening.

Who won the week: The Coalition, after starting the week untidily. The leaders’ debate was a turning point – of the 100 undecided voters that attended, 28 were still unable to split the two after an hour of questions and answers. That’s a worrying sign for an incumbent who’s had eight years in the job and suggests voter hesitations about giving the premier a third term.

This week’s dux: Treasurer Tim Pallas and opposition treasury spokesperson David Davis share the honours, with the release of election costings and their seamless and effortless ability to assure Victorians that the state budget isn’t in structural deficit.

This week’s dunce: The Labor campaigner who recruited Kevin Rudd to campaign in Northcote. Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to remind voters that Kevin Rudd is on your side?

Kirsty Webeck, comedian

My barista called it earlier this week. “Dan Andrews has got to win this.” I have complete trust in any human who can froth milk to that level of perfection. Also, after the debate between the two leaders earlier this week, it’s hard to conceive any other outcome.

Andrews has conquered the art of public speaking and came across as articulate and measured. Meanwhile, Matthew Guy stumbled and missed key opportunities to put the premier on the spot, demonstrating he may not be the Guy (ahem) for the job.

The icing on the cake was Guy declining to thank healthcare workers for their hard work since the beginning of the pandemic. Imagine saying no to that.

“Hey, Matthew, would you like to bend down and rescue that basket of kittens right in your path?”

“Nah, I’m good, thanks.”

Related: Losers who lived: Matthew Guy is among the rare breed of opposition leaders given a second chance

Labor continued its focus on women’s health issues this week with a pledged $19m trial to allow pharmacists to treat minor illnesses, including straightforward urinary tract infections (which primarily affect women), and to reissue prescriptions for contraceptive pills. That in itself will save women a great deal of time and money.

Guy spent time revisiting one of the Coalition’s biggest ticket items: capping public transport at $2 a day. There’s no denying that voters are concerned about the rising cost of living, but I don’t know that public transport is the biggest worry. Is it enough to get the Coalition in? I don’t think so but we don’t have to wait much longer to find out. I reckon my barista’s right on the money.

Who won the week: After being virtually ignored for, well, ever, women’s health has cleaned up again this week.

This week’s dux: The debate provided an obvious metric for this and it’s safe to say Andrews won it with calm and calculated political communication.

This week’s dunce: Catherine Cumming for her “red mist” comments about Andrews at a rally on Saturday afternoon. While she was cleared of inciting violence by police, she would have been sweating for a few days before being handed the verdict.

• Dr Margaret Simons is a board member of the Scott Trust, the core purpose of which is to secure the financial position and editorial independence of the Guardian