New surge for Finns Party seems unlikely
By Juho Rahkonen
Finland’s political fold is returning to the same kind of state of stagnation that it was in before the Parliamentary elections of 2011.
Three old powerful parties, the National Coalition Party, the Social Democratic Party, and the Centre Party stand out as clearly the largest. The Finns Party under Timo Soini seems at least at present to be stuck in fourth place, with the Greens closing in behind them.
It is impossible to say where the numbers for the parties will settle in the municipal elections in October. However, it is possible to forecast the future on the basis of various models.
In my own field of science, communications, one of the most influential theories for several decades already has been the so-called theory of agenda setting. According to the theory, the influence of the media is primarily in what kinds of topics it raises into the public agenda. What people think about things is not as significant as the subjects on which they have any opinion at all.
Professor Heikki Paloheimo, who has analysed opinion polls taken after the Parliamentary elections, has pointed out that voters tend to support a party that considers certain issues to be important, if those issues are especially hot at election time.
The political party that is clearly the largest at present, the National Coalition Party, has been successful above all because the people are concerned about the sustainability of state finances. Economic discipline has been seen as the strength of the parties of the right. When the top concerns of society are unemployment and the problems of working life, support for the Social Democrats tends to grow. If there are concerns about regionally balanced development in Finland, the Centre Party reaps the benefit.
The Left Alliance is the most successful when the citizens are worried about marginalisation and poverty. The rise of environmental questions onto the political agenda benefits the Greens; this is what happened in the 1980s and 1990s when the party experienced rapid group. Concern about traditional values and moral questions would benefit the Christian Democrats, according to this theory.
Supporters of the Finns Party become mobilised especially when there is concern in society about a growing gap between decision-makers and the common people. Suitable scapegoats include the European Union as well as Economic and Monetary Union, which are seen as projects of the elite among supporters of the Finns Party.
Numerous studies confirm that the main reason for the massive support of the Finns Party in the 2011 Parliamentary elections was a desire among the people for change. The election funding row, the euro crisis, and many ordinary irritations from waste water legislation to the planning of road fees made voters think that the elite is seriously alienated from the lives of ordinary citizens. There was a need to show the politicians that in the final instance, the power in this country rests in the hands of the people.
Of all political topics clearly the most important for supporters of the Finns Party is the euro crisis and assistance to eurozone countries that are suffering economically. Although Greek economic issues are not decided by Finnish local authorities, the Finns Party can get an additional boost in support in the municipal elections if there is a decisive turn for the worse in the euro crisis.
A problem from the point of view of the Finns Party is that people are getting bored with the euro crisis. With constant news coming in from every news outlet on the difficulties of Greece and Spain, many become numb because it is beyond their power to do anything about it anyway.
In politics, the way to the top is rocky, but it is even more difficult to stay at the top. Even if someone could manage to make a breakthrough, there is no guarantee that the position will remain in the future.
There is no great political theme in Finland around which the Finns Party could build a new surge. Such a stunning event would be hard to repeat because a Finns Party landslide would be nothing new.
In the municipal elections of 2008 support for the Finns Party was 5.4 per cent. With the present figures, the number of Finns Party councillors in Finnish municipalities and cities is set to double, which would mean a considerable shift in the balance of power. However, the party has far to go if it is to repeat the 19.1 per cent in support that it got in last year’s Parliamentary elections.
Support for the Finns Party grew at a historically rapid rate. In 2010 alone it increased by more than ten percentage points. A year ago, in the early summer a poll put the Finns Party as the largest party in Finland for a short time, with support reaching 23 per cent. Support stemming from such a meteoric rise cannot be on as sturdy a footing as that for older parties, which have cultivated a base of support over a period of decades.
There are plenty of potential Finns Party voters who are not firmly committed to the party, and who usually do not vote at all. That is why the party can bounce up within a short period of time at an opportune moment, which is what occurred in 2010 – 2011. So a new surge has not been cancelled, even though it seems to be unlikely in light of present information.
It is unlikely for any sudden, revolutionary events to happen in the euro crisis one way or another. It is more likely that there will be more of the same slow meandering as has been the case so far.
As long as concern about the state of Finland’s state finances overcomes the moral indignation of helping countries worst hit by the euro crisis, there is unlikely to be any significant changes in support for the political parties.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 9.6.2012
The writer has a PhD in social sciences and is the head of research at the polling agency Taloustutkimus.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Poll: National Coalition Party Finland´s largest (1.6.2012)
Poll: Finns Party continues to lose support (18.4.2012)