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Finnish voters more trusting of politicians than their Nordic neighbours, researcher says

Political divides in Finland are less austere compared to other Nordic countries, according to Finnish researcher Johan Strang.

Eduskunnan kyselytunti
Parliament of Finland. Image: Yle

When it's time to vote in Norway and Sweden, about 85 percent of eligible voters regularly head to the polls. In Denmark voter turnout levels typically hover around 80 percent, but in Finland only about 70 percent of eligible voters usually make their opinions heard.

A Finnish researcher at the University of Helsinki, Johan Strang, said one reason people in other Nordic countries vote in larger numbers is that political divides are more visible to voters than they are in Finland.

"People vote if they feel their vote will have an effect. Politics in Sweden is generally about voting [making a choice] while in Finland politics is more about taking care of necessities. Swedish voters feel that they are participating in a different way than Finnish voters do, because they feel like something is at stake," Strang said.

Political issues are framed differently in Finland than in the rest of the Nordics, he said. The discourse here is often about how issues like the economy or the country's relationship to Russia will be handled pragmatically.

Story continues after photo.

Johan Strang University of Helsinki
File photo of Johan Strang. Image: Veikko Somerpuro

In Sweden, for example, political conflicts are traditionally dealt with by having candidates with clear stances on issues for voters to choose from. But in Finland, Strang said, the political scene is more complicated. Voters in Finland often do not know which government candidates are competing against each other.

Finland trusts pols will do their best

"We [in Finland] have become used to the notion that politics is about making necessary decisions about the future of the country. We set out to choose, in other words, who will take care of the situation. Norway, Sweden and Denmark have been able to raise a political discussion where different alternatives are raised. Particularly voters in Sweden have been able to steer the direction in which the country's headed, in a way that's different [to Finland]," Strang said.

Governments formed by disparate coalitions may also have contributed to making Finnish voters feel less energised to head to the polls than their Nordic neighbours.

"At a rhetorical level, it could be that the large 'rainbow coalition' governments we've had haven't been beneficial to voters," he said.

For better or worse, over the years Finnish voters may have simply believed that politicians, regardless of party affiliation, are committed to bettering everyone's interests. But that's not all bad, according to Strang.

He said politics is also about being able to reach workable solutions that override ideological boundaries.

"[Finns] aren't worried that politicians would not take care of this [kind of thing]. We trust that our [prime minister] will steer the ship in the right direction. In Sweden it's entirely different. The [Swedish] Moderate Party and the Social Democrats are desperately worried that the country will go down the drain if the other side wins. That's why [politicians there] hold onto power differently," Strang said.

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