Presidential popularity

Inspired by this poll on the popularity of US Presidents, I thought about what the results of such a poll in Finland would be. Since I was able to guess the top six in the US poll (see how many you get right), it stands to reason that I should be able to predict what the Finnish ranking would look like. I can guess, and will proceed to do so shortly, but curiously I'm a lot less sure about Finnish Presidents than US ones. It seems to me that opinions on Finnish Presidents haven't coalesced into an easily identifiable orthodox ranking.

I would imagine that the group of broadly popular presidents would consist of Kyösti Kallio (Agrarian League), Gustaf Mannerheim (independent), K.J. Ståhlberg (National Progressive Party), J.K. Paasikivi (National Coalition Party), Mauno Koivisto (Social Democratic Party), and, based on her actual poll ratings, Tarja Halonen (Social Democrat). Obviously Mannerheim would win, simply because he's Mannerheim, but the order of the rest of the top six is difficult to guess. Ståhlberg should be near the top; he was on the right side of history on most questions of his day, played a central role in drafting the constitution, and generally acted as President with modesty and restraint. Paasikivi kept the Communists at bay during a difficult time and was an entertainingly grouchy figure besides.

Then we have the controversial Presidents, who are mostly viewed positively, but engender some disapproval too. I'm thinking of P.E. Svinhufvud (Coalition), Urho Kekkonen (Agrarian/Centre Party), and Risto Ryti (Progressive). These guys would probably beat the likes of Koivisto and Halonen in a poll asking about greatness, as opposed to one measuring popularity, but they've also come under heated criticism from at least some political quarters. It's entirely possible that Ryti and Kekkonen would break into the top six, possibly even the top three. Both are noted for doing what (they thought) had to be done, but Ryti would perhaps win due to being a lot less selfish about it. Svinhufvud was a courageous and ideologically consistent figure, but his greatest accomplishments came before his presidency and he has his detractors on the left.

The third group consists of Presidents who are very difficult to rank: Lauri Relander (Agrarian) and Martti Ahtisaari (Social Democrat). Relander is probably the least known President and gets lackluster reviews from historians. It's not that he didn't anything bad; it's just that he didn't do much. About Ahtisaari's ranking I have no idea. People don't seem to have strong opinions about him one way or the other. EU membership is the cornerstone of his legacy, but it seems to me Esko Aho gets far more credit and blame for that.

A fun game is to find the US equivalents for Finnish Presidents. For example, Ståhlberg is obviously a Thomas Jefferson/James Madison type of figure, a constitution-drafting statesman ahead of his time. Svinhufvud is somewhere between John Adams and Andrew Jackson, a founding father and a tough son of a bitch. Ryti is vaguely reminiscent of Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy, although without a hint of putting ideological considerations above national interests. Mannerheim's presidency is difficult to compare to any US President, but as a national figure he's George Washington with a touch of Abraham Lincoln thrown in for good measure. Kekkonen compares to Franklin D. Roosevelt on longevity and Richard Nixon on trickiness.

Halonen? Chester A. Arthur with a touch of Bill Clinton, of course.

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