Riikka Purra, the chairperson of the Finns Party, awaited the results of advance voting at the populist right-wing party’s election-night event in Helsinki on Sunday, 9 June. The Finns Party slumping to a vote share of 7.6 per cent was one of several election outcomes that took Finnish pollsters by surprise, report YLE and Helsingin Sanomat. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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KIMMO GRÖNLUND, a professor of political science at Åbo Akademi University, told Helsingin Sanomat on Monday that he cannot remember an election where polls have been off the mark as badly as they were in the newly concluded elections to the European Parliament.

“They were all off quite badly. They were really far off,” he summed up on Monday.

Helsingin Sanomat, MTV and YLE all published their final polls in the week leading up to the elections, yielding total errors of 24.6, 28.3 and 20.3 percentage points, respectively, when compared with the actual results published on Sunday. The Helsingin Sanomat poll was carried out by Verian, the YLE poll by Taloustutkimus and the MTV poll by Åbo Akademi University.

“We performed the best in this sad group, but also we had a 20.3-point difference to the election results,” said Grönlund.

All three polls specifically failed to foresee the surge in support for the Left Alliance and fall in support for the Finns Party.

Propelled by the massive popularity of its chairperson, Li Andersson, the Left Alliance won 17.3 per cent of the vote to establish itself as the second largest Finnish party in the European Parliament. Andersson alone won 13.5 per cent of the 1.8 million votes cast in the elections, breaking the previous record vote haul by a single candidate comfortably by roughly 90,000 votes.

The Helsingin Sanomat poll had the left-wing party winning 9.7 per cent of the vote.

The Finns Party lost one of its two seats after slumping to a vote share of 7.6 per cent, days after polls indicated that the party would be fighting for as many as three seats in the European Parliament. The YLE poll, for example, had the populist right-wing party winning 16.5 per cent of the vote, albeit with the caveat that a lot would hinge on its ability to mobilise its supporter base.

Helsingin Sanomat and YLE polls both also greatly overestimated the appeal of the Social Democrats and underestimated the appeal of the National Coalition.

Grönlund highlighted to Helsingin Sanomat on Monday that polls have previously underestimated the appeal of the Finns Party. “Now they all overestimated it wildly,” he said, attributing the error to the high number of people who, when contacted by pollsters, said they would vote but ultimately stayed at home.

For example, over 70 per cent of people voiced their intention to vote in the poll carried out by Åbo Akademi. Ultimately, though, voter turnout came in at 42.4 per cent.

Jari Pajunen, the managing director of Taloustutkimus, stated to YLE on Monday that the low turnout explains some of the polling errors by, for example, benefiting parties with a diligent support base, such as the National Coalition and Swedish People’s Party. Supporters of the latter may have also been prompted to action by pre-election polls, which showed that the party was at risk of being left without representation in Brussels.

“And it was a surprise that Finns Party supporters seem to have stayed at home,” he said to the public broadcaster.

Finns Party supporters staying at home may partly explain the solid vote haul of the National Coalition and the respectable showing of the Green League, but it does not explain the popularity of Andersson.

“The Left Alliance is a mystery,” conceded Grönlund to Helsingin Sanomat.

One viable theory is that she managed to mobilise people who have previously paid little attention to the European Parliament. Grönlund estimated that the theory is almost surely accurate given that the turnout did not change significantly from previous elections: with Finns Party supporters staying at home, they had to have been replaced by someone, such as young adults inspired by Andersson.

“Andersson’s whopping personal vote haul threw a wrench in the measurements,” Pajunen said to YLE. “We simply had no grasp on that. When you look at the comparative figure, Andersson’s votes are the only thing there.”

Although pollsters like to stress that polls are not forecasts but rather measures of the public mood at a particular time, Grönlund said he is sure the results will prompt pollsters to refine their methodologies.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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