Municipal mergers decreased voter turnout

The Finnish municipal mergers that took place in 2009 decreased voter turnout significantly in small merged municipalities. In large merged municipalities, the voter turnout did not change.

Kuva: Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.comPhoto: Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com

A new study by Simon Lapointe, Tuukka Saarimaa and Janne Tukiainen of the VATT Institute for Economic Research (VATT) shows that the voter turnout decreased clearly in small merged municipalities compared to similar small municipalities that were not merged (see Figure 1). Meanwhile, in large merged municipalities the voter turnout developed in the same way as it did in comparable large municipalities that were not merged (see Figure 2).

 

The figures show the trends of voter turnout in municipalities before (election years 2000 and 2004) and after municipal mergers (election years 2008, 2012 and 2017). The municipal borders of 2009 already applied in the 2008 municipal elections.

 

The study monitored the voter turnout in the five municipal elections that have taken place in the 2000s. The analysis was performed at the level of pre-merger municipal borders. In small merged municipalities, the merger decreased the average voter turnout from 69% to 65%.

The researchers consider the decrease of four percentage points to be significant. Increased inactivity of voters in small merged municipalities contributes to rising regional inequality between small and large merged municipalities. Previous studies by VATT show that local services deteriorated the most in small merged municipalities that had lost their representation in municipal councils.

“Voter turnout did not decrease at the first elections where the new municipal borders applied, because they took place before the electorate had any experience on the functioning of the new municipality. The decline of the voter turnout took place later, when there was more experience”, Janne Tukiainen explains.

The result may be explained by the fact that when the number of inhabitants grows, the local democracy suffers and, naturally, it was the small merged municipalities that grew the most in relative terms. In large municipalities, voters may feel that they are remote from decision-making, voters and candidates do not know each other that well, and the sense of community may be weaker.

The study also revealed that the largest decrease in voter turnout was experienced in those merged municipalities where the inhabitants felt their possibility to influence politics had diminished the most.

“There have been similar results in other countries with respect to voter turnout and the experienced possibility to influence politics”, Tuukka Saarimaa says.
 

Research:

Effects of Municipal Mergers on Voter Turnout. VATT Working Papers 106.

Further information:

Simon Lapointe, Senior Researcher, +358 295 519 501
Tuukka Saarimaa, Associate Research Professor, +358 295 519 444
Janne Tukiainen, Associate Research Professor, +358 295 519 451