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Yle election survey: Voters opting for hometown candidates over party affiliations

Voters go to the polls on Sunday for the final day of voting in Finland's historic, first-ever regional elections.

The advance voting period ended on Tuesday, with 26.1 percent of ballots cast so far. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

The hometown municipality of a candidate will be a critical factor for voters as they choose delegates for newly-formed healthcare assemblies in Finland's first-ever regional elections.

A survey commissioned by Yle into the main factors that will influence voters found that some 39 percent of respondents said they would prefer to vote for a candidate from their own municipality.

By contrast, less than one in three respondents, or 30 percent, said they would vote based on party or group affiliations.

The results of the survey do not come as a surprise to Elina Kestilä-Kekkonen, a professor of Political Science at the University of Tampere.

"There's nothing surprising about that. We are used to thinking about decision-making on a municipal level, especially with regard to social and health care," she told Yle.

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However, she pointed out that this mindset can lead to problems.

"A lot of ideological decisions will be made in the regions about the use of private services, the service strategy and the management culture. As such, party selection should be important," Kestilä-Kekkonen said.

According to University of Helsinki researcher Jenni Karimäki, local issues are often at the forefront of voters' minds in elections such as these.

"This type of voting decision is aimed at securing the voter's own local services as far as possible. Certainly a kind of tactical voting will be seen in that regard. On the other hand, it must be remembered that today a huge number of voters are swing voters, I mean, those who do not necessarily have a well-established party affiliation. They might change from a party to a certain candidate from one election to the next," Karimäki explained.

Yle's survey also found that about 16 percent of respondents would prefer to vote for a candidate that they know.

Researcher: Centre Party on home ground

The National Coalition Party (NCP) is the clear favourite to top the polls at this election, as the Petteri Orpo-led party did at last year's municipal elections.

Yle's survey of voters' party sentiment found that 22.4 percent of respondents were planning to vote for the NCP in this election, putting the opposition party four percentage points ahead of its nearest rival — Prime Minister Sanna Marin's Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Both of the university researchers interviewed by Yle said that the NCP's objective of topping the poll at this election will be helped by the likelihood of low voter turnout, their position as the main opposition party and some of the themes of the election, such as taxation and the line between public and private sectors.

"The strength of the NCP has always been consistently reliable voters," Professor Kestilä-Kekkonen added.

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Yle's regional election poll of voters showed a clear lead for the National Coalition Party, but also a significant increase in support for the Centre Party. Image: Ilkka Kemppinen / Yle

One significantly noteworthy outcome from Yle's party survey was that the Centre Party moved into third place in the standings, ousting the Finns Party from that position. However, Kestilä-Kekkonen said this was to be expected, as the Centre Party is very much on home turf when it comes to the regional elections.

"The Finns Party are more interested in national themes, especially immigration. For the Centre Party, these are precisely their elections, because Helsinki is not involved and small municipalities will be voting much more actively. That's where the Centre has the highest support," Kestilä-Kekkonen said.

According to Karimäki, an election result similar to Yle's voter survey, of 17.7 percent, would be a significant victory for the Centre Party and leader Annika Saarikko, and it would represent a clear improvement on the municipal election result, when the party polled 14.9 percent of votes.

"It would be the kind of tonic that the party has certainly been waiting for," Karimäki said.

This week's All Points North podcast looked at how voters can decide who to vote for in Sunday's regional elections. You can listen to the full podcast using the embedded player here, via Yle Areena, Spotify (siirryt toiseen palveluun), Apple Podcasts (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or on your usual podcast player using the RSS feed.