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Professor calls for openness as Finns cling to voter secrecy

As advance voting in the 2019 general election begins, many voters told Yle they consider their choice of candidate a highly personal matter.

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Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

People in Finland like to keep their voting choices a closely-guarded secret, according to an informal Yle survey.

The straw poll asked readers if they tell others who they voted for, and if so, what kind of responses they received. The question garnered 126 responses over the course of three days.

Many respondents said they would not feel comfortable even telling their spouse about the candidate they chose.

"Election confidentiality is a fundamental component of democracy. It's not right to divulge your vote, even if you don't put a lot of stock in a secret ballot," one person wrote.

"Someday we might end up living in a society in which forces seek to silence voters with the 'wrong' political leanings. We can't create a custom or expectation that we have to openly share our personal voting decisions because it might lead to silence on the matter being interpreted as a vote they don't dare divulge," wrote another.

Professor of social psychology Vilma Hänninen from the University of Eastern Finland says there is something very intimate about sharing political affiliations in Finland.

"It's quite similar to questions of religion. Both are seen as private affairs, and people don't care to speak about them," she said.

Professor: Finns are consensus-seekers

"It always bothered me when my mum never wanted to reveal whom she voted for. She'd just say 'voter privacy' and smile like Mona Lisa," one respondent recalled.

Another reason people often avoid talking politics in Finland is the potential rift it might create between friends.

"I learned my lesson after my friends and I got into a terrible row over the second round of a presidential election. We had such differing opinions that a couple of years went by before some of us ironed things out. Now we know to talk about politics in general, but never to reveal whom we vote for," one respondent shared.

Hänninen says that as a rule, Finns seek consensus.

"Perhaps in the aftermath of the Civil War, we want to stay in agreement. We aren't eager debaters, like you might find in other countries. In other places, there may be more of tendency to present opposing stances more clearly to encourage dialogue," she said.

However, she said it still is important that people in democratic societies speak openly about politics.

"It's not good that potentially controversial issues are kept out of our conversations. These shouldn't be things that lead to a communication breakdown. Open discussions about political stances would be extremely beneficial. Maybe that way, we could avoid having others talk for us," she said.

"I've always got good reasoning behind my choices, so I find that people don't overreact to them, even when they don't agree with the party. This year, I plan to vote completely differently than I have in the past. My 70-year-old dad freaked out when I told him, but after he went on about it for awhile, he eventually calmed down," one reader told Yle.

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