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Number 9 (3/2002)

New perspectives on existing data

Mari Kleemola

Heikki Paloheimo, docent and lecturer of the Department of Political Science at the University of Turku, has exploited data archived at the FSD both in teaching and in research. He has a favourable opinion of services provided by the data archive.

Genuine data motivate students

This year Paloheimo used Finnish Voter Barometers in his quantitative research methodology course. Students compared party support to social background and studied the opinion profiles of supporters of various parties. Paloheimo says that using genuine data from their own field increased the students' interest both in the course and in quantitative methods. Each student had a possibility to make new findings on the basis of already existing data.

Data series enable research on changes and trends

Heikki Paloheimoempty spacePaloheimo himself has studied the changes in Finnish political behaviour during the last few decades. He has utilized several data series archived at the FSD, for example, Finnish Voter Barometers 1971-2001 and Finnish National Attitudes 1986-2000.

- One of the advantages of the Finnish National Attitudes series is its continuity, same questions are asked year after year, he points out. He has also analysed voting behaviour in parliamentary elections from 1975 to 1999, during which seven elections were held.
- With the help of the archived data, I have been able to typify various citizen participation styles and analyse trends in the support of various parties. In addition, it has been intriguing to study the political opinions of non-voters, a group which is steadily growing in numbers. The opinions of Finnish non-voters are similar to those of right-wing populist party supporters in other Western European countries.

Lack of election surveys

Paloheimo says that the secondary use of archived data is not without problems, however. Few extensive election surveys have been conducted in Finland, at least when compared to Sweden, Britain and USA. Finnish surveys do not allow research on changes in successive elections.
- It is even difficult to find data series where the questions "which party did you vote for now" and "which party did you vote for in the previous parliamentary elections" have been posed regularly. Another disadvantage is the small sample size (1000), which means a high margin of error. This makes it difficult to get reliable information about the party support of each party according to background variables such as sex, income and education level.

Archived data enables comparisons

Paloheimo suggests that archived data is used in combination with other source material.
- Opinion polls give a good idea of people's values concerning political life and their views on the welfare state, market economy, environmental protection and internationalisation. These could be compared to, for example, political parties' election agendas.

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