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Home News ‘Swiss first’ principle could cause upset at ballot box

‘Swiss first’ principle could cause upset at ballot box

Published on 19/10/2018

A rightwing proposal to put the Swiss constitution above international law has potential to win a majority in next month’s vote, despite modest initial support, pollsters say.

Another initiative to grant financial support to farmers who keep cows with horns could also be successful on November 25. However, opponents of increased powers for social welfare detectives are unlikely to find broad support.

The opinion poll, published on Friday, was carried out seven weeks ahead of voting day by the GfS Bern research institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). For details see below.

Despite a gap of 16 percentage points, the initiative by the Swiss People’s Party still stands a chance of catching up with its opponents. These comprise an impressive alliance of political parties from left to centre-right, the business community, trade unions, representatives of civil society, as well as parliament and the government.

“There is limited support at the moment for the initiative and the campaigners will have to win votes from outside the People’s Party to be successful,” says GfS Bern political scientist Martina Mousson.

Campaigns for and against the initiative were launched in September and are likely to gather additional speed over the next few weeks, according to Mousson. She notes that the People’s Party may be trying to attract voters without a clear party affiliation, including government critics, in an appeal to Swiss democratic values.

“All it takes is a public outcry, for instance over the government’s policy with the European Union, to mobilise protest voters and conservatives,” she argues.

The promoters of the initiative argue that Switzerland’s constitution and its laws should take precedence over international treaties. The People’s Party targets the bilateral treaties with the EU and the European Court of Justice in particular, according to political experts.

Opponents of the initiative say the rightwing proposal would undermine Switzerland’s international reputation and its role as a reliable trading partner, as well as deal a blow to human rights.

Animal rights

A proposal to boost the number of Swiss cows and goats with horns, which are usually removed via dehorning, is the subject of another initiative that may have the potential for a ballot box upset next month.

Launched by a committee organised by a mountain farmer, the proposal for a constitutional amendment appeals to animal rights supporters across all language regions, income groups, genders and most parties, pollsters found.

The initiative itself is seen as a rather unlikely political issue, but the 22% lead over opponents shows a certain potential.

“It is time for opponents to mount a campaign if they want to have a chance of stopping the cow horn initiative,” says Mousson. The GfS polling experts say the People’s Party recommendation for rejection of the proposal may have an impact. The country’s main farmer group is undecided.

‘Internet referendum’

There is little hope of success for a committee challenging a law to crack down on insurance fraud if the poll results are to be believed.

“The referendum committee struggles to convince people outside the leftwing political camp that the private sphere of citizens is at stake,” says Lukas Golder, director of the GfS Bern institute.

He says most respondents believe there is a need to tighten the law, giving additional powers to welfare detectives.

Golder says it would take an extraordinary effort to reach outside the community of primarily young social media users living in urban areas to bring about a dramatic shift.

Based on the data from the first SBC poll, it is unlikely that the campaigners can hope for more than a narrow defeat.

The referendum was launched over the internet by an unprecedented citizen movement. It collected the necessary signatures within 100 days primarily with an online campaign.

The protest started after an author tweeted her disgust at a parliamentary decision earlier this year to grant broad snooping powers to welfare detectives.

A final SBC poll will be published in mid-November.

Polling details

Pollsters interviewed 3,277 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the first of two nationwide surveys.

The survey is based on online responses as well as telephone interviews, both with fixed line and mobile phone users, and was carried out from October 1-12.

The margin of error is 2.9%.

The poll was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC),’s parent company, and carried out by the leading GfS Bern research institute.