The 2017 Finnish municipal elections: who got in power where?

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The next municipal elections in Finland are about three months away. Instead of directly talking about them, however, we’ll here briefly talk about the past. And glance at the 2017 Finnish municipal elections.

First, we’ll take a general look at how the Finnish political parties did in those elections. Then, we’ll talk about regional differences in party support. In the end, we give you a few tools you can use to check which party or parties dominate your local politics.

If you are rather new to Finnish politics, this review should give you an idea about the Finnish political landscape at the municipal level. Knowing who’s been in charge in your home town for the past four years may also inform your voting decision this coming April.

This blog is based on the research reports Kuntavaalitutkimus 2017 by Sami Borg and Kuntavaalitrendit by Sami Borg and Sari Pikkala. We also used the municipal election statistics provided by Statistics Finland and their related reports on the elections.  

This blog post is a part of a series of blogs we have been running since last fall on the upcoming elections. The other parts of the series are:

The importance of municipal elections to political parties in Finland

Political parties view municipal elections as a way to gain influence on local and regional decision making. This decision-making power refers to seats in municipal councils and boards. It also means seats in municipal committees, boards of municipal companies, regional advisory or decision-making boards, etc.

Municipal elections are also a way for political parties to recruit new members to the local party chapter. The candidate acquisition process especially plays an important role in this. 

Municipal elections also serve as a measurement of general party support in between national parliamentary elections. How well a party does in municipal elections has an impact on its power at the national level. Therefore, for example, parties in the opposition at the national level use municipal elections as a forum to criticize the parties in government. 

Locally, however, power relationships between parties can vary significantly from their relative positions at the national level. Also, local alliances and divisions between parties can be different from those at the national level. Getting things done at the municipal level generally depends on larger coalitions than at the national level. The political actors, in terms of parties, however, are the same at the local and the national levels.

Overall support of different political parties in the 2017 Finnish municipal elections 

The same large political parties have dominated both the national parliamentary elections and municipal elections in Finland. 

These three large parties are the Social Democratic Party of Finland, the Centre Party, and the National Coalition Party. For a long time, SDP was clearly the largest municipal election party. In the 2008 elections, however, the National Coalition Party took the lead.

As a group, they have seen their share of the municipal election votes decrease within the last two decades. These parties are clearly not as dominant as they once were.

This dominance was first shattered by the rise of the True Finns party which rose into prominence in the 2012 municipal elections. Then they got 12.3 % of the votes. In 2017, their share decreased to about 9 %. 

In the 2017 elections, in turn, the party that most effectively carved into the dominance of the big three was the Greens with 12.4 % of the votes. 

Here is the vote share by party in the 2017 Finnish municipal elections:

Party Vote share in the
2017 municipal elections
The National Coalition Party 20.7 %
The Social Democratic Party of Finland 19.4 %
The Centre Party 17.5 %
The Greens 12.5 %
The True Finns 8.8 %
Left Alliance 8.8 %
The Swedish People’s Party of Finland 4.9 %
Christian Democrats of Finland 4.1 %

In general, differences in vote shares from one municipal election to another are not very big in Finland. Usually, the differences are below 1 percentage point. Differences of 5 percentage points and over are rare. A significant anomaly in this general trend is the rise of the True Finns from the 2008 to the 2012 municipal elections. Their share of the votes rose from 5.4 % in 2008 to 12.3 % in 2012. 

Regional support of political parties in Finland

These national support levels, however, do not give an accurate picture of the power dynamics between different political parties in Finland. That’s because the support of some political parties is highly focused regionally. 

If we compare the national support figures of the political parties with their respective shares of all Finnish municipal councilors we see that some parties have a larger share of councilors than their national support figures would suggest: 

Party: English name and Finnish abbreviation Vote share in
the 2017 municipal elections
Share of all municipal
councilors in Finland
The National Coalition Party (KOK) 20.7 %16.6 %
The Social Democratic Party of Finland (SDP) 19.4 %18.9 %
The Centre Party (KESK) 17.5 %31.4 %
The Greens (VIHR) 12.5 %5.9 %
The True Finns (PS) 8.8 %8.6 %
Left Alliance (VAS) 8.8 %7.3 %
The Swedish People’s Party of Finland (RKP) 4.9 %5.2 %
Christian Democrats of Finland (KD) 4.1 %3.5 %

The support of the Centre Party is clearly concentrated in sparsely populated areas of Finland. Nationally, its vote share was only 17.5 % but in sparsely populated areas 34 % of voters voted for the Centre Party. 

After the 2017 municipal elections, the Centre Party was in the majority (at least 50 % of council seats) in 80 municipalities. They dominated (35 – 49.9 % of council seats) in additional 83 municipalities. In total, the Centre Party had at least 25 % of seats in over 200 municipalities out of the 295 municipalities in mainland Finland. No other party comes even close in terms of the dominance of council seats. 

The most popular party in Finnish cities, in turn,  is the National Coalition Party. In the 2017 Finnish municipal elections, the party received 25.6 % of city votes. The next largest party in Finnish cities is the Greens with 19.2 % of city votes. The Centre Party, in contrast, only received 6.3 % of city votes. 

Party support in your own area

As the support of different political parties in Finland varies so much from one region to another, national support levels don’t tell much about local politics. 

If you want to take a look at how your municipal council seats fall between the various political parties, you can use this site by YLE. You can look at the results of the 2017 Finnish municipal elections in individual municipalities. It even gives you the names of elected councilors. Note, however, that they might not be exactly the same people as those sitting in your municipal council currently. Resignations during the electoral term do of course happen. The number of seats per party is still correct, though. 

This map service by Statistics Finland, in turn, shows quite nicely the dominant parties in each municipality. It also allows you to check the 2017 municipal election results by municipality, constituency, and by voting districts in the largest Finnish cities. The image below is a partial screen capture from that site. 

With these tools, you can check which party or parties hold the reins of power in your home municipality currently. Are you happy with what they’ve been able to accomplish?

These tools are a great starting point for making your voting decision for the April elections!

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