Anti-immigrant protesters camped outside Helsinki Railway Square on 27 May, 2017.

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The Finnish attitudinal climate provides a fertile breeding ground for both nativistic and egalitarian populism, concludes a report by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA).

EVA on Tuesday published the results of a survey of the values and attitudes of Finns, indicating that 45–74 per cent of the public have a negative opinion of the elites, immigration and market economy.

Finnish populism is founded fundamentally on two factors, according to EVA: scepticism about globalisation, which is perceived primarily as a reason for the loss of jobs and national decision-making powers, and opposition to the elites, who are widely believed to only protect their own interests.

Populist attitudes can also be divided into two main groups, one of which is rooted in opposition to immigration and the other in opposition to income inequality and market economy.

“Curbing immigration is the number-one priority for nativistic populists,” writes Ilkka Haavisto, the research director at EVA. “They believe immigration is already excessive and do not consider it justified to increase [immigration] due to economic or humanitarian reasons.”

“Right-wing populists believe a change is necessary: strong leaders are required to help the nation to re-discover its identity and restore social order and discipline,” he adds.

EVA reminds that egalitarian attitudes are just as prevalent as nativistic ones in Finland. Egalitarian populists, it says, are inclined to blame social and economic inequalities for the problems of the country and argue that such inequalities are a consequence of a neo-liberal system that seeks to promote globalisation and market-based activities.

“The most important aspect is opposition to economic inequality,” tells Haavisto. “[Egalitarian populists] consider the economy a zero-sum game, where someone’s gain is someone else’s loss.”

The survey found that education is the single most important factor associated with populist attitudes or lack thereof, with people with tertiary qualifications being the least likely and people with no post-primary qualifications the most likely to have populist attitudes.

Haavisto also draws attention to a somewhat surprising discovery: 18–25-year-old respondents were the least likely to be drawn to populist rhetoric.

“This is surprising in the sense that younger age groups are believed to have been vulnerable to populist influences as they are less committed than their seniors to use representative democracy to have an impact on the society,” he explains.

25% of Finns ready to vote ultra-nationalists

EVA’s survey also measured support for three hypothetical populist parties.

The survey found that up to a quarter of the public would be prepared to vote for an ultra-nationalist party campaigning on promises including shutting down the borders, favouring native-born job applicants over immigrant ones, and abandoning the euro and possibly also the European Union.

Such a campaign platform won support especially among voters of the Finns Party, according to EVA.

“As many as 79 per cent of them indicated that they would likely vote for such a party, while practically no one ruled out the possibility of doing so,” says Haavisto.

Fewer than one in ten (7%) respondents contrastively indicated their readiness to vote for a left-wing populist party promising to raise taxes for high-income earners, pursue unilateral disarmament and restrict the movement of capital. A radical green agenda that would ban private vehicles, prohibit factory farming and accept negative economic growth, in turn, appealed to 11 per cent of respondents.

The results can be interpreted as an indication that there is demand for more radical alternatives in the political spectrum of Finland, argues EVA.

“The Finns Party, in particular, seems to be under pressure to re-focus its policies in a more pointed and populist direction, given how much support the nativistic populist platform received,” views Haavisto.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva

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