A look at voting activity in Finnish municipal elections

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This week we’ll take a look at voting activity in Finnish municipal elections. As we have mentioned in two of our previous blogs, we will have municipal elections in Finland in April of next year. 

Our election-related blogs thus far have encouraged our readers to become candidates in these elections. In the first one, we told you how to become a candidate. In the second blog, we discussed why even being a losing candidate might be worth it. 

Today, we’ll turn our gaze towards the voting behavior of eligible voters. First, we take a look at voting activity in general. Then we’ll focus on voting activity especially among those with a foreign background.

Here we follow the Statistics Finland definition of “foreign background”. Statistics Finland defines a person as having a foreign background if the person his/herself has been born outside of Finland or his/her parents or the one know parent has been born abroad. This definition thus includes those who are Finnish citizens and those who are not. In municipal elections, some non-citizens have the right to vote

Some of the studies I quote here present data only on the voting activity of non-citizens. I try to make clear in the text what voter group I talk about in each case. Let’s start with voters in general. 

General voting activity in previous municipal elections

Municipal elections in Finland interest voters less than parliamentary elections. In our last parliamentary elections in 2019, 72.1 % of eligible voters voted. In contrast, only 58.9 % of eligible voters voted in the last municipal elections in 2017. 

Voting percentages have decreased in Finland within the last couple of decades. The decline, however, has been steeper in municipal elections than in parliamentary elections.

Ville Pitkänen and Jussi Westinen who analyzed voting in the 2000s suggested a couple of reasons for this decline. 

They suggested, for example, that national politics and national politicians are better known to the electorate because of the media coverage they get. 

They also asked some voters for their reasons for not voting. Nearly a third (28 %) of respondents felt that there wasn’t anything in for them. Almost as many (26 %) said they distrusted politicians and politics in general. 

In 2017, differences in voting activity between different municipalities were quite large as it has been in previous elections. For example, the voting percentage was highest in Kinnula with 82.63 % of eligible voters voting. It was lowest in Kajaani with only 49.25 % of eligible voters voting.

In general, voters are more active in small municipalities than in larger ones. There can, however, be quite a bit of difference in voting activity between voting districts within the same municipality. For example, in Helsinki, the overall voting percentage in 2017 was 61.8 %. Voter turnout was highest in Paloheinä with 81.2 % of eligible voters voting. In Kotula C voting district, however, only 41.1 % of eligible voters voted. 

Voting activity of different demographic groups in the 2017 municipal elections

Sami Borg tells us that women voters in Finland are slightly more active voters than men. In 2017, 60.7 % of women voted compared to 56.9 % of men. Women have been voting in municipal elections more actively than men for 20 years now. Generally, women’s voting percentage is about 4 percentage points higher than men’s.

In general, younger people are less active voters than older people. Statistics Finland’s study based on electronic voting data tells us that the voting percentage in the last municipal elections was highest among 73-year-olds. 76.7 % of them voted whereas only 33 % of 20-year-olds did. 

Voting activity in Finland correlates very heavily with education level. In the 2017 municipal elections, the voting percentage of those with a university degree was 80.9 % while the voting percentage of those with just basic education was 45.6 %. 

Generally, people that are employed tend to vote more than those who are unemployed. In a similar vein, those that make more money tend to vote more than those that make less. And people who are married vote more than those who are not. 

Voting activity of voters with a foreign background

Josefine Sipinen and Hanna Wass tell us that there isn’t a lot of research on the voting activity of Finnish residents who have a foreign background. One reason is that the number of such residents has increased only in very recent decades. For example, the number of non-citizens who were eligible to vote in the 1996 municipal elections was 44 569. In the 2017 elections, the equivalent number was 176 661.

Voting activity among eligible voters who are not Finnish citizens is clearly lower than that of Finnish citizens. In the 2017 municipal elections, only 17.6 % of eligible EU citizens used their right to vote. The voting percentage was slightly higher (20.1 %) for non-citizens originally from outside the EU.

The voting activity of different nationalities varies considerably. Sipinen and Wass show that the voting percentage of those with Somalian citizenship was 57 % in 2017. For Estonian citizens, in turn, it was only 9 %. Notably, the change in voting activity from the 2012 to the 2017 municipal elections was huge. The voting percentage of Somalian men rose 17 percentage points from 2012 to 2017. For Somalian women, it rose 22 percentage points.  

A closer look

Maria Valaste and Hanna Wass examined the voting behavior of specifically non-Finnish citizens and naturalized Finnish citizens in the 2012 and 2017 municipal elections. They concluded that employment status, wealth level, and marital status influenced their voting behavior as well. Although perhaps not as much as they do for native-born Finns. 

Also, they examined how possible changes in a person’s circumstances affect their voting activity. A change in employment status from unemployed to employed doesn’t seem to influence the voting activity of non-Finnish citizens. An increase in income, however, increases voting activity a bit. However, marriage with a native-born Finn increased the voting activity of non-citizens markedly. 

Previously, Hanna Wass and Marjukka Weide had found a connection between voting activity and the size of the family. Those with a large number of children tend to be more active voters. Those with children connect with municipal services (healthcare, childcare, and educational services) more than those without. This engagement with services perhaps raises interest in the decision-making that affects those services.

Why not vote

As a part of the FinMonik (Survey on Well-being among Foreign-Born Population) study, Kuusio, Lämsä, and Leeman looked at the political participation of their study participants. They didn’t specifically look at municipal elections but political participation and voting in general. 

The participants identified the lack of information as the main reason for not voting (30 % of respondents). 18 % of respondents said they are not interested in politics. 16 % said they had difficulties finding the right candidate. The same proportion said they didn’t trust politics. Interestingly, distrust towards politics and politicians was highest among Estonians (27 %). They also felt that voting is useless. One really can’t influence things through voting (29 % of Estonian respondents). 

Where to find information about voting

The best place to find general information about voting in Finland is the governmental website vaalit.fi. The site has information on elections in 24 different languages. Their different language versions about the municipal elections still refer to the 2017 municipal elections but I’m sure they’ll change the information once we get closer to the elections.

Before the elections next year, we will do a blog post where we’ll try to collect links to resources where you’ll find information on the candidates.

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