Expert: High emotional stakes major factor in record March 5 voter turnout

Aivar Voog.
Aivar Voog. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The record voter turnout at the March 5 Riigikogu elections has also sparked interest in investigating motivation in voting.

Aivar Voog, head of Kantar Emor, a market research firm which conducted a post-election survey whose results form the basis of the following piece, said that the parties drawing up their battle lines in the run-up to the election played a major part in how things panned out.

Ahead of the elections, especially on social media, there were plenty of calls visible which urged the public to go to vote precisely so that this or that party would not get into office. Perhaps you recall posts along the lines of "the difference in support ratings between the two political parties is so slim, that every vote counts!"

Creating an emotional backdrop like this seems to have paid off.

'The court of the people' main motivating factor

The sharp polarization of political parties found expression in motivations to vote, especially among first-time Riigikogu voters. In addition to fulfilling their usual civic duties, many first time voters indicated openly that they wanted to prevent the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) entering office, as one of their reasons.

Another defining factor and especially among young voters (21 or younger) that, compared with the rest of the electorate, a far greater motivation related to situation in the country and in the wider world. Concerns about the war in Ukraine and the resulting security situation could certainly be seen as one of the factors behind this.

That said, we mapped people's reasons for voting with as open-ended question as possible, so as to obtain a fair and broad range of reasoning.

Regardless of party preference, the "court of the people" was the primary reason for going to the polls, as answered by 44 percent of all respondents.

This comes as no surprise. For example, in the case of the last European Parliament elections, a Eurobarometer survey mapped the voting motives of the residents of all member states. Back then, too, the most compelling motive was fulfilling one's civic duty.

Party preference with first-time voters did not differ much from experienced voters

If we look at the further motives for the Riigikogu elections this time around, these already depended more on party preference (in general, party preference is seen as more predominant at Riigikogu elections, compared with local and European elections, where candidate preference takes a more prominent role-ed.)

For instance Reform Party, Eest 200 and Social Democrat (SDE) voters expressed more prominently a desire to vote against EKRE as a motive.

Meanwhile, Eesti 200, United Left Party (EÜVP) and Parempolsed voters, the rationale lay more with supporting a relatively new political force (Eesti 200 was founded in 2018 and had not won any Riigikogu seats until March 5; Parempoolsed was founded only last autumn-ed.).

Isamaa voters expressed relative loyalty to their preferred party of choice, whereas EKRE voters were, proportionately speaking, voting more against the Reform Party and against the government's actions, as mentioned in their survey responses.

First-time voters made up nearly 7 percent of all those who voted. The majority of these, two-thirds, cast an e-vote. 

Half of first-time voters were under the age of 22, meaning they were first-timers in the literal sense and could not have voted at a prior Riigikogu election.

There was little to distinguish these, in terms of party preference, from more seasoned voters.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kapo Meiel

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