Yle's January public opinion poll suggests that the conservative National Coalition Party (NCP) is virtually neck-and-neck with the prime minister's Centre Party – but two percentage points behind the SDP. The main opposition party has led the polls for months.
The horse race is tightening ahead of April's municipal elections, which many pundits see as a midterm referendum on the three-party coalition government. Two of those partners – the Centre and the Finns Party – as well as the opposition SDP, all lost support in the January survey. The biggest gainers were the other government party, the NCP, as well as three smaller opposition parties: the Greens, Left Alliance and Swedish People's Party.
The main government party, the Centre, saw its support dip to its lowest level in four years. At the last municipal elections in the autumn of 2012, backing for the then- opposition Centre was at 18.7 percent before beginning a gradual rise that swept it into power in the spring of 2015 with support of over 21 percent.
Centre's slalom run
In the honeymoon period after the parliamentary elections, premier Juha Sipilä's Centre basked in popularity of around 23 percent, but since then has been slaloming downhill.
In late 2016, its backing popped back up to just over 20 percent, but in January it has edged back down to 19 percent. That follows a couple of months of controversy surrounding Sipilä and his fellow Centre transport minister Anne Berner.
SDP leadership challenge
The SDP took the top spot in the Yle/ Taloustutkimus survey in October, solidifying support around 21 percent late in the year. The new year has started with a slight setback as the SDP heads into a party conference late next week. There Party chair Antti Rinne appears likely to fend off a leadership challenge from two other candidates – a process that does not seem to have spurred the party's popularity.
NCP back in the game, Green boost
With just over two months to go before the election, the NCP is trying to defend its status as the most popular party at the municipal level. After a decline in December, it now seems to be back on stride, vying with the SDP and government partners the Centre for local kingship.
The January data indicates growth for all the opposition parties besides the SDP. The fourth-largest party, the Greens, racked up backing of close to 14 percent. That could presage the best-ever result for the party in municipal elections and put them on track for a return to government after the next general election.
The Left Alliance has remained more or less steady around the eight percent mark. The tiny Swedish People's Party, now in its first period in opposition in decades, pegged its highest rating in recent history at well over five percent.
Finns Party sinks again
The populist Finns Party has lost more than half its support since joining the government for the first time. Their current backing of less than eight percent is even a far cry from their result of over 12 percent in the last municipal elections. Foreign Minister Timo Soini, too, would face a leadership challenge if he decides to run for re-election as party chair next summer. The polling suggests that former backers who are disillusioned with the Finns Party are having a hard time finding another party to support. Most seem to be looking toward the SDP.
Taloustutkimus interviewed just under 2,000 people between January 2 and 24. It reckons that the margin of error is 2.3 percentage points for the major parties.