Presidential hopefuls Mika Aaltola (left), Pekka Haavisto, Jussi Halla-aho and Olli Rehn (right) took part in a panel discussion organised as part of Talk Helsinki on 16 August 2023. Haavisto remains the frontrunner, with 43 per cent of the public regarding him as a good choice for president according to a poll by Helsingin Sanomat. (Roni Rekomaa – Lehtikuva)

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EX-MINISTER for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (Greens) continues to command the top spot in the latest presidential poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat.

Haavisto, the newspaper revealed last week, is regarded as a good choice to become president by 43 per cent of the poll respondents, a share that grants him a narrow advantage over former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb (NCP).

Stubb, who is currently a professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, was considered a good choice by 41 per cent of respondents.

Mika Aaltola, the director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, and Olli Rehn (Centre), the Governor of the Bank of Finland, were almost neck and neck behind Haavisto and Stubb, at 33 and 32 per cent, respectively.

Each of the four frontrunners has formally thrown his hat into the presidential ring. Stubb is the candidate of the National Coalition, whereas Haavisto, Aaltola and Rehn are all running on behalf of a constituency association.

The fifth place in the poll was shared by Speaker of Parliament Jussi Halla-aho (PS) and European Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen (SDP). They were both deemed a good choice for president by 16 per cent of respondents.

The Finns Party confirmed Halla-aho as its presidential candidate at its party conference in mid-August. Urpilainen, meanwhile, is expected to announce her decision on the possible candidacy late in the autumn, having been asked to enter the race by Sanna Marin, the outgoing chairperson of the Social Democrats.

Li Andersson, the chairperson of the Left Alliance, was regarded as a good choice for president by 15 per cent of respondents. Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Sari Essayah (CD) was selected by eight per cent and Minister of Education Anna-Maja Henriksson (SFP) by six per cent of respondents.

The survey respondents were able to select any number of the 26 options provided in the poll.

Stubb has doubled his popularity since the previous presidential poll published by the newspaper in May. Also Haavisto, Aaltola, Halla-aho, Urpilainen and Andersson have recorded up-ticks of several percentage points in their popularity in the past couple of months.

The results of the two polls are not fully comparable, however, due to the removal of candidates who have rejected the possibility of running or are no longer expected to enter the contest.

Sakari Nurmela, the research director at Kantar Public, called particular attention to the performance of Stubb, estimating that it could be attributable to the fact that the polling period coincided with a high number of media reports about his candidacy. The ex-premier confirmed his candidacy on 16 August, whereas the poll interviews were conducted on 16–17 August.

“In spite of that, you can clearly see that Stubb has hit the ground running in the presidential race,” Nurmela stated to Helsingin Sanomat.

Also noteworthy is the performance of Aaltola. “Aaltola was trailing Rehn in the poll in May, but now he’s at least neck and neck with Rehn,” said Nurmela.

Aaltola is considered a good presidential choice especially by supporters of the largest parties: he was the second most popular choice among supporters of the Finns Party, third most popular choice among supporters of the Centre and National Coalition, and fourth most popular choice among supporters of the Social Democrats.

“There has been public speculation that Aaltola could mix things up on the so-called right. This seems possible at least to some extent according to [the poll], even though it’s naturally too early to say at this point,” commented Nurmela.

Haavisto, he added, is the most popular choice at the red-green end of the political spectrum, being the most popular choice among supporters of not only the Green League, but also the Social Democrats and, narrowly, the Left Alliance.

“You can think how much there’ll be tactical voting when voters start thinking whether they can get their preferred candidate to the second round [of voting],” said Nurmela.

He reminded that general observations are more meaningful than actual percentages at this stage of the race, with the campaigns largely still in their infancy and the presidential field still incomplete.

“In that sense it’s interesting to examine which candidates are seen positively in addition to the own candidates of different groups. We’ll see in the autumn how the contest shakes out once we have the full candidate list.”

Kantar Public conducted 1,237 interviews for the poll.

The first round of voting in the presidential elections will conclude on 28 January 2024. If no candidate receives more than half of the vote, the two most popular candidates will face each other in a run-off on 11 February 2024.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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