There has been a sharp increase in support for NATO membership

Support for NATO membership has increased compared to a year ago. This change can probably be explained by a hardening of the attitudes of Finns towards Russia and the inauguration of a new president in the United States, writes Sami Metelinen, Managing Editor at the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA.

A total of 26 per cent of Finns believe that Finland should join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or NATO, according to EVA’s Survey on Values and Attitudes conducted in autumn 2021 (Figure 1). However, 40 per cent of citizens are opposed to NATO membership. A third of respondents (33%) said they were undecided.

Compared to the same survey conducted a year earlier, support for NATO membership had increased by four percentage points. Opposition to NATO membership fell by five percentage points over the year. These changes exceed the survey’s error margin (2–3 percentage points in either direction) and they are obvious changes, considering how little Finns’ attitudes towards NATO have fluctuated from one year to the next.

This question has been asked in EVA’s Survey on Values and Attitudes since 1998, when support for NATO membership was at its peak at 28 per cent. After that, support for NATO membership remained at under a quarter of respondents for a long period, with the figure falling to its lowest level in 2012. In that year, support for membership was the lowest in its history of measurement (14%), as two-thirds of respondents (65%) were against the idea of joining.

Finland shoud join Nato. Picture: EVA’s Values and Attitudes Survey

Broken down into voters of different parties, support for NATO membership continues to be highest among those who voted for the National Coalition Party (60% in favour), and this figure continued to rise in the past year. Support is higher than average also among voters for the Swedish People’s Party (35% in favour)[7] and the Finns Party (31% in favour).

Whereas a year ago the majority of SDP, Centre Party, Green and Left Alliance voters were opposed to NATO membership, it is now only voters of the Left Alliance (74% opposed) and Movement Now (62% opposed)[8] who are against membership.

It is too early to say whether the shift in attitudes detected indicates that respondents’ cool attitude to NATO is beginning to warm.

Among other population groups, support for NATO is especially strong among those in management positions, of whom 58 per cent are in favour of membership. Support increases slightly with level of education. Men (38%) are clearly more in favour of NATO membership than women (15%).

Over the past decade, defence cooperation with the US, which is the most important member of NATO in military terms, has become closer, which is reflected in the latest Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy submitted to Parliament: “The United States is an important and close partner for Finland. The wide-ranging cooperation includes foreign and security policy cooperation and defence cooperation.”.[9]

Finland’s orientation to the west in foreign and security policy may gradually be reflected in increased support for NATO membership. However, it is too early to say whether the shift in attitudes that has now been observed represents normal fluctuation of attitudes or a warming in citizens’ attitudes towards NATO, which up to now have been cool.

membership last peaked in 2016 (27%), after which it declined slightly before the rise that was observed in this survey.

The reason for the change in attitude may be related to the end of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Attitudes towards potential membership fluctuate according to the international political landscape and partially also reflects Finns’ attitudes towards Russia.[1]The biggest swing in recent years took place in the 2015 survey, which was preceded by the invasion of Crimea and Russia’s military action in Ukraine. These events resulted in a slight increase in support for NATO membership while positive attitudes to Russia faded slightly at the same time. The Survey on Values and Attitudes indicates that Russia is increasingly seen as a major military threat[2], which may now be partly reflected in Finns’ stance towards NATO.

Impact of the new president in the United States

The changes detected in the latest survey do not yet lead us to draw the conclusion that there is a more permanent shift under way in the attitudes of Finns towards NATO membership. The slight increase in the percentage of those in favour of membership, however, is in line with the trend seen in Sweden, for example, and partly among the citizens of other western countries. Attitudes towards the defence alliance have become more favourable over the past year.[3]

The reason for the change in attitudes could be the end of Donald Trump’s presidency and the inauguration of the Democrat Joe Biden in early 2021. A year ago, Finnish respondents held extremely grim views of Donald Trump’s impact on international security and the position of the United States,[4] and opinions in other western countries were also similar. In contrast, the citizens of western countries have positive views on Biden across the board, and their trust in the United States has increased rapidly.[5]

The transition to a new administration in the United States may have increased support for NATO membership especially among those who believe that the conflict over values between the democratic West and authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China has intensified.

Support for NATO membership has clearly increased among voters of the Green League, for example, and it is now as high as it is among the total population on average (Figure 2). Just a year ago, the majority of those voting for the Green League were against membership.[6]A similar trend can be observed among supporters of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

How the survey was conducted

The results are based on the responses of 2,042 people. The error margin of the results is 2–3 percentage points in each direction on the level of the entire population. The data were collected from 24 September to 7 October 2021. The respondents represent the population aged 18–79 across all of Finland. The material was compiled using an online survey by Taloustutkimus and weighted so as to represent the population according to age, gender, place of residence, education, profession or position, sector and party affiliation. The statistical further analysis of the material was conducted by Yhdyskuntatutkimus Oy. The results and the more detailed itemisations of the results by population group are available on EVA’s website. EVA has conducted the Survey on Values and Attitudes since 1984.

The Article was published in English in March 2022 and in Finnish 26th of October 2021

References and sources

[1] Haavisto, I. (2021). Estranged from Russia – Finns are more critical than before of their eastern neighbour, EVA Analysis No. 99.

[2] 59 per cent of Finns currently see Russia as a military threat, whereas only 31 per cent of Finns held this belief as recently as in 2005. Some of the increase in this figure has occurred in the last few years. See Haavisto (2021).

[3] Poushter, J. ja Fagan, M. (2021). NATO continues to be seen in a favorable light by people in member states, Pew Research Center, (retrieved 25 October 2021).

[4] Metelinen, S. (2020 a). Suomalaisten arvio Donald Trumpin presidenttikaudesta on synkkä (Finns give grim assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency), EVA Article,

[5] Wike, R., Poushter, J., Silver, L., Fetterolf, J. ja Mordecai, M. (2021). America’s Image Abroad Rebounds With Transition From Trump to Biden, Pew Research Center, (retrieved 25 October 2021).

[6] Metelinen (2020 b). Suomalaisten luottamus Venäjään horjuu, mutta Nato-kannatukseen se ei vaikuta (Finns’ trust in Russia shaken, but support for NATO unaffected), EVA Article,

[7] In the case of Swedish People’s Party voters, support for NATO membership fell by 15 per cent from the previous year, but due to the small size of this population group, this swing should be viewed with reservation.

[8] The number of respondents identifying as Movement Now voters is small, so no conclusions should be drawn from changes that take place from one survey to another.

[9] Finnish Government (2020). Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy, Government publication 2020:30.