Canberra and Queensland tend to get most of the political headlines these days, but there’s been a bit more attention this week on Victoria, and not in a good way for Liberal premier Ted Baillieu.

Out of all the crop of new Liberal premiers, Baillieu is the most self-consciously “progressive”, and on his shoulders most of all rests their claim to present an alternative direction for the Liberal Party to that of Tony Abbott. That means he is regularly fighting on two fronts — sniping from the right (particularly the News Ltd papers) as well as disappointment from those on the left who discover there are limits to how progressive any Liberal premier is going to be.

This week the state budget was delivered on Tuesday to a mixed reception — declining revenues have led to a fresh round of spending cuts in order to bring in a (small) surplus. Coincidentally, a Newspoll on Monday showed the government back to the levels of support with which it narrowly won the 2010 election, a drop of 6% from its post-election high in the middle of last year.

There’s nothing inherently progressive (or the reverse) about cutting government spending — it’s all about how you do it. There’s certainly plenty of scope for making cuts or repairing revenue holes without impacting on the poor and vulnerable. But you can only tell so much from reading the budget papers; we will have to wait and see how the cuts (particularly the redundancies, which is where most of the money is) are implemented before we can really assess their impact.

The comparison is inevitably being drawn with the Kennett government, which implemented a much larger round of redundancies and other cuts in 1992-94, to the accompaniment of much public angst. But the state’s budgetary position then was much more dire. Although Baillieu regards Kennett to some extent as a mentor, he is smart enough to know where not to follow him.

Just as importantly (and of course the two are closely connected), Kennett was in a very different political position, elected in a landslide in 1992. Whatever his short-term problems, he knew he was pretty much guaranteed two terms of office. He could afford a degree of adventurousness that Baillieu, with just a two-seat majority, cannot.

Which brings us to the polls, and the question of Baillieu’s electoral prospects in 2014.

On its own, any one opinion poll is basically meaningless (some pundits need that sentence tattooed on them prominently). But the trend in Newspoll doesn’t look good for Baillieu (you can find past results here: although this week’s hasn’t been posted yet). His “beauty contest” or preferred-premier ratings show the same downward slide, with a particularly sharp drop of 9% in the most recent poll.

As my colleague the Poll Bludger points out, numbers such as that “have been known to give rise to the proverbial ‘speculation’ from time to time”. But despite what News Ltd might have you believe, it’s most unlikely that Baillieu will face a challenge in his party room: his election victory was too much of a pleasant surprise, and the lack of talent among his rivals is too obvious.

Nonetheless, and with the usual caveat about there being a long way to go, the polls show that the next election cannot be taken for granted.

There is a definite air of disenchantment towards the government. And unlike their counterparts in New South Wales and Queensland, who annihilated their opponents, the Victorian Liberals need to be a bit cautious.

Baillieu’s model should be not Kennett but Labor’s Steve Bracks, who also had a wafer-thin majority in his first term and learnt caution from it. He was rewarded with a landslide victory the next time. (He was helped by a dysfunctional opposition, whereas Baillieu’s opposition seems not so much dysfunctional as invisible.)

If Newspoll is right, Baillieu is well short of landslide territory. But if he continues to display a safe pair of hands and avoids the twin pitfalls to his left and right, there is plenty of time for him to win over the uncommitted.