VOX-Analysis: Individual considerations were more important than party slogans in the March 2021 referendum.

23.04.2021 | Tobias Keller, GFS Bern

Pragmatism and individual considerations of costs and benefits were more important than slogans in the three proposals on 7 March 2021: the rather surprisingly narrow victory on the free trade agreement with Indonesia was in contrast to two defeats for the Federal Council and Parliament.  This is confirmed by the results of the survey of 3,070 voters in the VOX analysis March 2021. The study was conducted by gfs.bern and funded by the Federal Chancellery.

A narrow majority of those voting voted in favour of a ban on veiling for cultural considerations and for internal security. In the second defeat of the authorities, a clear majority voted against an E-ID solution, which provided for private companies to issue electronic identities, due to security concerns about data protection. Finally, the pragmatic view of economic benefits of free trade prevailed over significant environmental ethical concerns in the handling of palm oil.

Narrow yes to veiling ban: first successful initiative since 2014

A clear left-right polarisation best describes the approval pattern for the veiling ban. However, the approval reached far beyond the SVP camp. Women’s rights, protection of culture and against violence led the veiling ban to success in terms of content, each from different queues.

Contrary to the party slogan, the majority of the FDP and the centre voted in favour. In the GLP, more than a third of the voters voted in favour of the veil ban – and even in the SP, around a quarter voted in favour. In addition, half of those who were not party-affiliated voted in favour of the proposal. Furthermore, the approval pattern is marked by a sharp generation and gender divide: Men voted yes, women no. Over 50s voted yes, younger people no.

The issues of women’s rights and the protection of oppressed women were claimed by both sides in the referendum campaign. Accordingly, the Yes and No sides invoked this motive. In the end, the message that burqas and niqabs promote misogynistic lifestyles convinced even 42 per cent of the No voters.


Data protection concerns and little trust in the private issuers of an E-ID

Although a clear majority of parliament (against the left) passed the E-ID law, the criticism from digitally organised circles against the law also caught on on the far right and among SVP supporters, who each voted 46 per cent in favour. The law was thus overwhelmingly rejected. This also applied to almost all party supporters: The law received the greatest support from the supporters of the FDP and the centre, who each voted for the law by about 50 per cent. The Yes side did not succeed in building trust in the private solution.

For the No side, the vote was less an expression of criticism of digitalisation or a lack of faith in progress. However, the No side was not prepared to accept a risky solution that could provoke abuse by private publishers because of concerns about data protection, even in Corona times, which suggest rapid progress in digitisation.

Economic advantages were more important than environmental concerns in the “trade agreement with Indonesia”.

The majority of sympathisers from the political centre to the right voted in favour of the bill. In these camps, the economic arguments prevailed: Swiss companies would benefit from the agreement, as it would simplify access to a promising market and define environmental standards. The free trade agreement with Indonesia would also be important for Switzerland’s foreign relations.

The opposing side – mostly sympathisers of left-wing parties – stressed that the increased palm oil production would harm the environment, that the environmental standards included in the agreement were insufficient, that Indonesians would be exploited and that domestic rapeseed and sunflower oil production would come under pressure.

Accordingly, the Swiss electorate weighed the economic potential of an agreement with Indonesia against the protection of the environment. In the end, the economic potential of the agreement prevailed – albeit only by a narrow margin.

Further information can be found in the summary respectively in the full report (in French, German or Italian).

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Tobias Keller

Tobias Keller

Project manager and Team Lead Data Analytics