Right-wing parties take election performance into account when selecting chairman of municipal executive

Coming high up the list significantly improves a municipal election candidate’s chances of being elected to the leadership of the municipal executive.

But this only holds where the nomination is made by a right-wing party. As well as personal election performance, when making their selection the parties also stress a candidate’s experience and whether he/she toes the party line. Voters prize other characteristics more highly, such as being highly educated.

A recent study by VATT and the University of Stockholm observes that a candidate’s election performance matters when a party gets to appoint the chairman of a municipal executive from its ranks. The candidate who polls most votes on a party’s list of candidates is around twice as likely to end up being chairman as the candidate who polls almost as many votes but comes second.

This limited comparison shows there to be a credible causality between list ranking and chairmanship appointment, because in tight elections which of the candidates comes first is largely coincidental.

The study also demonstrates that personal election performance only plays a role when a right-wing party – in practice the National Coalition Party, the Centre Party or the Swedish People’s Party – appoints a chairman, and when there is little competition both between and within parties.

“Voting in municipal elections, therefore, affects matters beyond the distribution of seats on the municipal council. Chairman of the municipal executive is the most influential position in municipal politics, and therefore it is important to heed voters’ preferences when the selection is made”, says Janne Tukiainen, senior researcher at VATT.

The study also compared the characteristics of the chairmen of municipal executives and those of candidates who polled the most votes but were not elected chairman. This comparison is descriptive only in nature, but nevertheless illustrates how voters’ preferences diverge from parties’ preferences. Parties stress experience and whether an incoming chairman’s views represent the standard party line more than voters do.

Women become chairmen significantly less frequently than they top lists. According to Tukiainen, this phenomenon is explained at least partly by path dependence: parties like to re-appoint the same old chairmen, and they tended not to be women.

Voters’ favourites, on the other hand, tended to be more highly educated, had higher incomes and a higher socio-economic status than those elected chairmen of municipal executives. In research literature these variables are considered reasonable indicators of candidates’ ability, so it appears that ability means more for voters than for parties.

”Despite this, in the light of these indicators the chairmen of municipal executives are on average more capable than all candidates or councillors. Thus the Finnish municipal political system manages to select reasonably capable leaders”, Tukiainen adds.

The research material comprised material on Finnish municipal elections in the 2000–2012 period from the Ministry of Justice and statistics on elected municipal officials compiled by the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. The data was supplemented with register material from Statistics Finland, Keva and the Tax Administration and candidates’ responses to the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation’s candidate matcher application.    

Further information:

Senior Researcher Janne Tukiainen, VATT, tel. +358 295 519 451, janne.tukiainen (at) vatt.fi

Primary Effect in Open-List Elections
VATT Working Papers 79