Vote on STAF: the return of the compromise? An analysis

Vote on STAF: the return of the compromise?

18.06.2019 | Claude Longchamp

Less than seven hours after voting closed in the Swiss federal elections on 19 May 2019, the gfs.bern research institute produced the first post-referendum analysis using a survey as a basis. The SRF current affairs show Tagesschau covered the study. Following the STAF survey, we are investigating the future of the OASI system.

Welche Stossrichtung sollte ein AHV-Reformpaket beinhalten? Die Ergebnisse der Umfrage.

In the referendum on tax reform and OASI financing, the vast majority of centrist voters expressed themselves in favour of the compromise: 88% of FDP voters, 85% of CVP voters and 75% of SP voters voted yes. Even supporters of the opposing GLP approved the proposal at a rate of 72%. Two opposing parties were divided: the GPS (53% in favour) and the SVP (49% in favour). The latter had not issued a voter guide.


Three arguments influenced the majority decision:

  • sustaining Switzerland’s status as an attractive business location
  • improved pension security
  • the reform package, which defuses two hot topics in current politics.

The most meaningful counter-argument also referred to the latter aspect, albeit from the opposite point of view, arguing that combining two unrelated proposals was undemocratic.

Urs Bieri, manager of the special survey conducted on behalf of SRF, claimed last night that voters had paid greater attention to the urgency of the issues than they did to the criticism of the approach taken.

84% of voters rejected pension cuts

The result, however, is not an excuse to sit back and do nothing: the debate surrounding the OASI reform continues without interruption. While yesterday may not have gained its proponents any votes, it did yield extra time. The Co-director of gfs.bern commented: ‘There are calls for the implementation of further comprehensive reforms, ideally during the next five years.’ This means that the upcoming elections will determine who will be responsible for those reforms.

None of the trialled measures stand out on their own. Only pension cuts do – in an overwhelmingly negative way.  84% of voters rejected them more or less outright. Radical proposals for an increase to the state pension age, e.g. to 67 for men and women, also failed to gain a majority.

Instead, there could be a potential majority for an increase to the pension age to 65 for women (73% of voters were absolutely or mostly in favour), additional VAT increases to fund the OASI (67% absolutely or mostly in favour) and, possibly, an increase in income tax (57% absolutely or mostly in favour). If only respondents ‘absolutely’ in favour of the proposals are taken into consideration, however, all three cases fail to gain a majority.

This has ramifications: any attempt to overhaul the OASI for the long term will fail if it is argued based on a single cause and a single measure. What is needed is artful politics. That will require an imaginative combination of measures that will ultimately enable a broad political centre to support the proposals. The proponents of the reforms will need to sway voters across the entire spectrum from left to right: a compromise, again.

Three questions for Urs Bieri, Co-director of gfs.bern:

Do OASI reforms need the support of a clear parliamentary majority to succeed? What proposals would such a majority need to be based on?

Mainly, a balanced reform package. Swiss politicians have discussed pension reforms 17 times since 1995. After 1995 (the tenth OASI reform), all attempts either failed to pass in parliament or were rejected by the voters. All except the tax and OASI package. The 2020 pension reform package was rejected by a small margin. When it comes to pension reforms, package proposals seem to be a key element. After all, there is no need to try and combine two completely different topics again.

The current debate is much broader than what we were able to analyse. It ranges from a 13th OASI pension reform to the automated adjustment of an individual’s pension age to their life expectancy. What proposals stand a chance?

Isolated expansion or cutback reforms do not. Neither the left nor the right can single-handedly gain a popular majority for their proposals. Instead, they have a responsibility to make concessions: if neither side is willing to accept compromises, the topic of pensions will keep going around in circles for years to come.

Yesterday, gfs.bern produced an initial analysis at a record-breaking speed. What is needed to pull this off?

Our post-referendum analysis concludes an intensely arduous voting day. Alongside the survey and analysis, we also produce projections, comment on them on the radio, television and social media, and assist various print media in incorporating the results. That requires clear processes and interfaces and an experienced, well-coordinated team. I have nothing but respect for my 14 colleagues on location and in the Preparation department. They all make a crucial contribution and withstand the enormous pressure of the job with exemplary motivation.