Voting analysis 13 February 2022:
No, no and no again

13.02.2022 | Martina Mousson, GFS Bern

Swiss voters have decided, voting once with and three times against parliament and government.

Since the 2019 elections, political authorities have increasingly struggled to garner support for their positions in referendum votes – a situation that has become even more acute in the context of the pandemic. Swiss voters have had their say on 26 referendum issues since the start of the current legislative period. Nine times, they voted against the Federal Council and the parliamentary majority. This corresponds to a 70 percent success rate for the official position.

With today’s official defeats on stamp duty and the media law, the success rate for referendums has risen to a remarkably high 43 percent. In the medium term, for the period from 2011 to 2020, it was a significantly lower 26 per cent. The acceptance rate for popular initiatives is also higher in the short term than in the medium term. For the period from 2011 to 2020, it was 9 per cent; for the period since the 2019 elections to date, it is 25 per cent. If one includes the KVI, which failed only because of the majority of the cantons, it is even one third. What has happened here? Have Swiss voters become more critical of the authorities? Have Swiss voters become a nation of “no” voters?

It would be wrong to speak of a fundamental crisis of confidence, because confidence in the national government or the authorities in the broader sense is and remains intact (see chart). Less than a third of voters are critical of this issue. However, the clear majority believes that the government and parliament can be trusted.

It is also not the case that the mood against the authorities has a clear political colour. So we are not dealing with a system opposition in the classical sense. Rather, today’s vote shows that it is possible to launch successful referendums or initiatives on both the left and the right. For example, the media law was fought by the right and the stamp tax by the left, and both positions succeeded.

Obviously, the communication did not really succeed in showing why a compromise in a referendum makes sense (media law) or why the indirect counter-proposal is sufficient (tobacco advertising ban). The committee’s impact at the beginning of the campaign phase was effective and the gout that was set with it could not be turned around in the further course. What usually happens in referendum campaigns, that in the end some can be convinced by the authorities’ position, proves to be more difficult in the pandemic context. On the other hand, the packages that were put together in parliament were not convincing. Compromise packages or indirect counter-proposals obviously do not suit the people.

The pandemic context should not be underestimated in all this. People were politicised who normally do not participate in votes. These are people who form their opinions far away from the positions of established actors. Moreover, discussions do not take place in the same way as usual. This makes it more difficult to have the usual official kick towards the end of a voting campaign, as we used to see more often. The exchange beyond one’s own political camp is more difficult and would probably be important especially for packages put together in parliament in the sense of finding a consensus across camps.

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Martina Mousson

Martina Mousson

Project Manager