Study European Issues – How do you explain a policy proposal in a poll?

10.05.2021 | gfs.bern on behalf of Interpharma

Generally speaking, it is not easy to explain a policy proposal. The aim in each case must be to draft a description of the proposal using facts alone and not to influence the reader. gfs.bern has studied this question on behalf of Interpharma on the basis of the framework agreement.

In general, we leave the political evaluation of a study to the politicians. For us, there is no right or wrong here. However, we want to have our say when political interpretation increasingly becomes a critique of methodology. One point that is being widely discussed at the moment is the explanation of the framework agreement in the run-up to the acceptance question.

The central question was posed and introduced as follows:

“One of these currently discussed agreements is the so-called Switzerland-EU institutional agreement. This agreement is intended to place the 5 market access agreements that exist today and all future agreements between Switzerland and the EU under a new contractual umbrella. This would make it possible to adapt the existing agreements more efficiently and quickly to new circumstances and to negotiate new partial agreements more easily. The agreement is controversial in Switzerland.

If such an institutional agreement between Switzerland and the EU were to be put to the vote, would you definitely be in favour, rather in favour, rather against or definitely against it?”

In general, the explanation of a template is not easy. The aim of the explanation in each case is to create the description of the template with facts only. This is quite difficult in the case of the Framework Agreement, since at the time of the construction of the questionnaire (January) and the survey (March/April) it was not bindingly clear what the Framework Agreement would look like in the end.

In addition, it seemed central to us that we also supplement two other elements with the explanation of the draft. This is necessary because of the broad support for the current state of affairs, the current bilaterals. Otherwise, the current state would be too attractive and the measurement would be distorted. We have therefore added a sentence on why we want to adapt the bilateral agreements at all (the simplified implementation of new agreements). However, it is clear that explaining the reason for a change leads to the change appearing necessary. Therefore, in a further step, we looked for a supplementary sentence that puts the positive view in a broader context to the current discussion in Switzerland (The treaties are controversial in Switzerland).

However, this alone is not enough to ideally measure acceptance of the framework agreements. Therefore, two further elements were important to us in the construction of the questionnaire:

  • On the one hand, there are very few topics in Switzerland that have such a strong discussion culture and voting tradition. Very large parts of the population can express an already well-reflected opinion on questions of relations with the EU in early phases, and this is particularly true for the Framework Agreement. Accordingly, far-reaching explanations are less necessary than for other proposals. That this is also true here in the survey on the Framework Agreement is shown by a look at the undecidedness on the question of acceptance of the Framework Agreement, as well as on the associated arguments. On average, we have a “don’t know” percentage of 5%, which is low in connection with a proposal that still has unknowns in its design.
  • On the other hand, we also have the good opportunity to embed the question about the acceptance of the framework agreements in an entire interview of about 16 minutes. To do this, we use our dispositional approach as an aid to understanding how political opinion is formed. Therefore, we begin the interview with the predispositive, central opinion-shaping discussion on the current state of affairs surrounding the Bilateral Agreements. Here we survey all relevant general discussions and oppositions very broadly for their acceptance and impact. These points include economic, social partnership, societal, identity-oriented, but also relationship and role-specific elements. In order not to remain fixed on the framework agreements, we also ask about other scenarios of a relationship with the EU, regardless of whether they are politically opportune or realistic. Only then do we ask about the acceptance of the framework agreements, and then substantiate this acceptance with a broad set of arguments on the current discussion surrounding these framework agreements.

All in all, we have thus created an up-to-date picture of opinion formation among the population. Of course, there are some “ifs and buts” to this. In the end, it plays a decisive role in which frame a voting debate would be conducted. We cannot predict this, but we can show in which frame the discussion is currently taking place and also point out the remaining uncertainty. For our part, we have emphasised this several times.

If you have any questions concerning this post, please contact our expert for background information, insights and the methods and models used.

Urs Bieri

Urs Bieri