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Finns go to the polls on Sunday

By Marley Morris

Who is your money on?

The Finnish presidential elections are on Sunday and it looks as if the True Finns – or just ‘The Finns’, as they would now prefer to be known – are not going to match their electoral performance last year. In the 2011 Finnish parliamentary election they shockingly won nearly 20 per cent of the vote – up from 4.1 per cent in 2007 – after campaigning against the bailouts of Southern European countries. Finns leader Timo Soini is a charismatic figure who took a Masters in populism and spoke at the Tory Party Conference last year. But he will not be doing a Jean-Marie Le Pen by capturing enough votes to challenge favourite Sauli Niinistö in a second round run-off.

The Finns Party is different from the Front National in France and other right-wing populists in other ways too. It has no significant neo-Nazi connections – rather it emerged from the populist agrarian Finnish Rural Party in 1995. Most supporters place themselves in the middle of the political spectrum and Soini’s economics are pretty left wing. Yes, it is anti-immigration, but its main platform is euroscepticism. It is made up of anti-EU populists, but far right? That is pushing it.

So why is Soini polling so badly, only at 6 per cent? Was the Finns’ 2011 success just a flash in the pan? Looking more closely at the opinion polls it is clear that the Finns Party is still popular – at 19.9 per cent in a recent poll. But it is not translating into support for Soini.

Finns voters are largely protest voters.

Soini says it is because his members are not voting for him, since they want him to remain chair of the party. But this is not convincing. More likely is that Finns voters are largely protest voters. They may agree with Soini’s ideas, but they do not want to see him running the show. If another politician starts to intensify their anti-EU talk, they will happily head over to them.

Our quantitative analysis at Counterpoint backs this up. From looking at Finns voters over the past decade, around 60 per cent are ‘reluctant’ supporters that do not see themselves as close to the party. And it is those who aren’t interested in politics and who are less trusting in parliament who are the more likely to be reluctant Finns voters. These preliminary findings suggest that it is political disillusionment, not a faith in Soini’s capabilities, spurring these people to vote for him.

Yet even assuming Finns supporters are a variety of protest voters, it does not mean that they are on the wane. Soini may do poorly this election, but his party still has strong support. After all, there is still plenty to protest about.

References:
  • ESS Round 5: European Social Survey Round 5 Data (2010). Data file edition 1.0. Norwegian Social Science Data Services, Norway – Data Archive and distributor of ESS data.
  • ESS Round 4: European Social Survey Round 4 Data (2008). Data file edition 4.0. Norwegian Social Science Data Services, Norway – Data Archive and distributor of ESS data.
  • ESS Round 3: European Social Survey Round 3 Data (2006). Data file edition 3.3. Norwegian Social Science Data Services, Norway – Data Archive and distributor of ESS data.
  • ESS Round 2: European Social Survey Round 2 Data (2004). Data file edition 3.2. Norwegian Social Science Data Services, Norway – Data Archive and distributor of ESS data.
  • ESS Round 1: European Social Survey Round 1 Data (2002). Data file edition 6.2. Norwegian Social Science Data Services, Norway – Data Archive and distributor of ESS data.

Marley Morris is a researcher on Counterpoint’s Open Society Foundations supported project Recapturing Europe’s Reluctant Radicals

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