The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) continues to consolidate support among voters just one month ahead of parliamentary elections due in Finland next month, according to a fresh test of voter sentiment.
Backing for the parliament's largest opposition group rose by 1.2 percentage-points from a previous poll in February and now stands at 21.3 percent, outstripping government coalition partners the National Coalition Party (NCP) and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's Centre Party.
Voter approval for the NCP fell just over one percentage point to 16.2 percent, the party's weakest performance in four years and the lowest during Petteri Orpo's chairmanship. Sipilä's Centre also posted a dubious distinction, with voter support slipping 1.5 percentage points since February to 14.1 percent, the lowest recorded by pollster Taloustutkimus since November 2011.
The SDP's lead over the NCP is now 5.1 percentage points and it is 7.2 percentage points ahead of the Centre.
Pre-election boost for Finns Party
The populist Finns Party posted the biggest gains in Yle's latest poll, capturing the approval of 13.3 percent of voters and building up momentum that began earlier this year and racking up the highest level of approval under new chair, the immigration hardliner Jussi Halla-aho. This month's support reflects an increase of 1.3 percentage points over the last survey.
"People who had previously voted for the Finns Party and who have occasionally been doubtful [about the party] are now restoring their support," said Taloustutkimus research director Tuomo Turja.
Before the latest voter survey, the immigration- and EU-sceptic party had been nearly neck-and-neck with the Left Alliance, but it is now challenging the Greens for the position of the country's fourth-most-popular party.
Meanwhile the Greens, led by former minister and presidential candidate Pekka Haavisto, lost nearly a full percentage point of voter sentiment to settle at 13.7 percent backing, while the Left Alliance enjoyed a very marginal boost to register 8.9 percent support.
Among the smaller parliamentary groups, the Swedish People's Party saw support rise to 4.7 percent. Approval for the Christian Democrats remained more or less steady at 3.5 percent. The Blue Reform, which split from the Finns Party two years ago, seems to have failed to capture the imagination of voters, with support languishing at just 1.8 percent in the latest survey.
NCP bleeding votes to Finns Party, Centre voters abandoning ship
With undecided or floating voters switching allegiances in the run-up to the 14 April election, anything is still possible. Pollster Turja said that the survey's background data indicate that the Finns Party has managed to attract voters from the sidelines as well as from other parties.
"The NCP and the Centre are most clearly losing [support] to the Finns Party," he added.
However the majority of NCP deserters have fled to the Greens, while Centre voters are jumping ship to join a range of other parties, including "the Greens, the Finns Party, the NCP and the SDP...undecided voters are now a challenge for the Centre," Turja remarked.
One interesting feature of the SDP's performance is not only its high approval rating during the survey period, but also the return of party leader Antti Rinne from an extended period of sick leave. Last Friday, Rinne relieved vice chair Sanna Marin, who has been substituting as interim chair during his absence. The final survey interviews were conducted on Monday and Tuesday, after Rinne's return.
"This was clearly the weakest period for the SDP in the survey period," Turja pointed out.
SDP and Greens would grab most additional seats
Taloustutkimus voter surveys for Yle have made estimates of the number of parliamentary seats parties would have relative to their current representation, based on a calculation of a six-month average of voter support. The calculus indicates that if an election were held now, Orpo's National Coalition would secure four additional seats for a total of 41 MPs in Parliament, although voter support now is significantly lower than during the 2015 general election.
The data show however, that the SDP and the Greens would post the biggest gains in the legislature. The SDP would nab 15 additional seats, bringing its present complement to 49, while the Greens would add 11 more MPs to seat 26 representatives.
On the flip side of the coin, if voters went to the polls today, the Centre Party would see its number of MPs plummet from 49 to 36. The Finns Party delegation would only expand from 17 to 21, given that a large number of MPs have left to become part of the breakaway Blue Reform since the 2015 election.
Researchers interviewed 2,905 respondents between 6 February and 5 March. The poll's margin of error is +/- two percentage points.