The ranking of Finland's biggest political parties has been reshuffled in Yle's latest municipal election survey.
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) of Prime Minister Sanna Marin dropped from first to third place in March, falling behind the main opposition blocs, the Finns Party and the National Coalition Party (NCP).
The race at the top remains tight, with the three parties fighting a close battle for first place in the delayed municipal elections, set for 13 June. The differences in their support fall well within the margin of error of two percentage points.
Yle's poll found that the Finns Party has regained its spot as the most popular party with 19 percent support, but the gap between it and the second-place NCP is negligible.
The third-place SDP is also still within striking distance, but in recent surveys it has been trending downwards.
SDP support fell the most
The SDP started the municipal election campaign as the most popular party when pollster Taloustutkimus carried out its first municipal election survey of the year in January. The main governing party's support declined in both February and March.
In March, the downturn steepened at a time when the debate over proposed anti-coronavirus measures such as restrictions on movement was at its most heated.
Three out of five governing parties publicly criticised the restrictions on movement, which were strongly pushed by PM Marin, and suffered a major setback in Parliament on Wednesday.
Tuomo Turja, Research Director at Taloustutkimus, which conducted the poll for Yle, suspects that the debate surrounding pandemic measures may also affect municipal election support.
"This survey measures municipal election support, but the elections have been postponed and the parties have not yet launched their campaigns. So this may reflect a more general political debate about what has been going on recently," Turja said.
Improved support for the National Coalition Party bodes well for them in the municipal elections. The NCP, which hopes to regain its position as the largest municipal party, can traditionally rely more on its voters to turn out than the Finns Party can.
"The NCP is in a positive situation in that it has loyal voters. The NCP can trust that the poll results will be realised in the election. The Finns Party has more challenges in this respect," Turja said.
Left support slips to Greens
Coming in behind the top three are the Centre Party and the Greens, who are nearly neck-and-neck. In March, the Greens saw the strongest rise in support for any party.
According to Turja, the Greens have won support from the Left Alliance, whose support has fallen. A bounce in support for the Left in February fizzled in March.
"The Left Alliance has lost supporters, especially among women, young people and people living in southern Finland. The Greens have gained supporters among the same groups," Turja said.
Support for Centre, small parties unchanged
Support for the Centre Party remained stagnant. Turja said that many former Centre voters remain on the sidelines and have not indicated which party they intend to vote for this time.
"At the moment, it is of paramount importance for the Centre that they get their potential supporters to the ballot box if the party wants a reasonable result in the municipal elections," Turja said.
At 12.5 percent, support for the Centre is currently five percentage points lower than in the last municipal elections in 2017.
The results of those elections were a big disappointment for the Centre at the time, but now the party would exceed all expectations if it were to repeat its 2017 performance.
Support for the Swedish People's Party has not shifted at all, although its leader, Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson, was heavily criticised for postponing the municipal elections.
Support for the two smallest groups in Parliament, the Christian Democrats and the Liike Nyt movement, likewise remained almost unchanged.
According to Turja, the approach of the municipal elections is reflected in the fact that the popularity of groups outside Parliament increased slightly in the support survey.
Taloustutkimus interviewed 2,463 eligible voters between 8 March and 30 March. Of these, 1,617 stated a party preference. According to the company, the margin of error is two percentage points.