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USU poll: Marin gains over Orpo in bid to lead next government

Ahead of next spring's parliamentary elections, the contest to lead the next Finnish government is clearly a two-horse race between the incumbent and the opposition leader.

Party leaders Petteri Orpo (NCP) and Sanna Marin (SDP) in January. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) has strengthened her position as the favourite to lead the next government, according to a survey (siirryt toiseen palveluun) published by the Uutissuomalainen (USU) newspaper group on Sunday.

Twenty-six percent of respondents named Marin as the best candidate to be Finland's next prime minister. 

The second most popular candidate for prime minister is Petteri Orpo, chair of the main opposition party, the National Coalition Party, which has led the party polls since last year. Twenty percent of respondents said they would support him as government leader. 

Since the previous USU prime ministerial survey in March, Marin's support has risen from 23 percent while Orpo's has slipped from his previous 22 percent.

Finns go to the polls in April to elect a new Parliament, with its largest party likely to take the premier's post.

The polling organisation Tietoykkönen asked which parliamentary party chair would be the most suitable to as the next prime minister.

Other party chairs far behind

Marin and Orpo still have a convincing lead over the others. Education Minister Li Andersson (Left) gained seven percent support, followed by Riikka Purra of the opposition Finns Party with five percent. 

None of the other six party leaders scored more than four percent support, with Finance Minister Annika Saarikko of the Centre garnering just three percent backing.

Just over one in four respondents declined to say who would be most suitable as the next prime minister.

According to Jenni Karimäki, a political researcher at the University of Helsinki, the results indicate that voters are well informed about party endorsement polls. 

"The difference between the top two and the next leaders is considerable. The coalition can also be happy about this result. Citizens assume that the prime minister will come from either the NCP or the SDP," she told USU.

According to Heikki Paloheimo, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Tampere, the top two stand out from the rest because they garner broad support beyond their own parties. 

According to Paloheimo, Marin gets a fair amount of support from supporters of the Greens and the Left Alliance, in addition to the SDP. In addition to NCP members, some supporters of the Centre and the nationalist Finns Party have grouped behind Orpo.

"However, Orpo's support outside the NCP is not as great as Marin's in the other red-green parties," noted Paloheimo.

Since the previous prime ministerial poll in March, Marin's support has increased by three percentage points while Orpo's has decreased by two. Despite the NCP's clear lead in the party polls, Orpo still lags behind Marin in personal popularity. There are several reasons for this, said Karimäki.

"The prime minister is significantly more in the public eye than the leader of the opposition. Voters have also generally been satisfied with Marin's way of doing her job," she said.

Paloheimo points out that a large proportion of the electorate believe that the government has succeeded at least fairly well during Marin's prime ministership.

"No other prime minister in the 21st century has received such positive ratings for government success as Marin," he pointed out. 

While the regular legislative term is four years, Marin has been premier for just under three years. She took over the post from fellow SDP politician Antti Rinne on 8 December 2019.

Orpo popular among men, older and higher-income voters

Orpo picks up more support from male voters while more women support Marin.

"Women clearly support the red-green parties and the values they promote more than men do, and this can be seen in Marin's support," said Paloheimo.

Marin is more popular than Orpo in all other age groups except those over age 70.

"There may be more people with conservative values among the elderly. On the other hand, older people are more used to having politics led by middle-aged male politicians than women," Karimäki noted.

The survey also suggested an income split. Orpo is clearly more popular among people who earn more than 80,000 euros a year, while those who earn less than 60,000 euros a year tend to support Marin.

Tietoykkönen surveyed a representative sample of 1,000 mainland Finnish adults during the 6-11 November period. It estimates the margin of error at 3.1 percentage points.

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