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Political decision-making should be responsive to citizens’ policy preferences to ensure the democratic legitimacy and accountability of defense policy. However, defense and security policy is not an area in which decision-makers could easily accommodate public opinion by adjusting public spending, especially after Finland became a NATO member. This highlights the importance of open public debate in which politicians are required to give elaborated groundings for policy actions especially if democratic support begins to decline. To enhance such dialogue, we need regular and systematic monitoring of citizen support for NATO membership as a vital component of Finland’s defense policy. We must also understand citizens’ NATO support as a function of varying policy images that politicians try to control. 

To accomplish these objectives, NATOpoll project addresses three inter-related research questions: 1) How does democratic support for Finland’s defense policy develop after NATO membership? 2) How do defense policy images develop after NATO membership? and 3) How democratic support for Finland’s defense policy changes as the function of shifts in defense policy images?

NATOpoll contributes to the study of democratic governance by emphasizing the role of public support in Finland’s rapidly changing security environment. We perceive democratic legitimacy of defense policy as continuous interaction and dialogue between citizens and decision-makers that take place in a public space. We produce unique datasets that help to understand how defense policy images are formed and how they are connected in shifts in citizens’ preferences. Altogether, this knowledge encourages politicians to justify defense policy actions in a more fine-grained manner which will enhance transparency and accountability of defense policy. A strong democratic legitimacy of Finland’s NATO membership will be particularly important when facing future security challenges.

NATOpoll project collects a rich source of research data, including panel surveys with conjoint survey experiments and social media data.