Centre-right voters hold the key in energy ballot
Support for the government’s energy policy appears to be waning but voters are still likely to approve a phase-out of nuclear power and a boost for local renewable energy combined with increased energy efficiency.
A second and final opinion poll, carried out by the leading GfS Bern research institute and published on Wednesday, found 56% of respondents backing the Energy Strategy 2050, which will come to a nationwide vote on May 21.
Compared with a first poll in early April, supporters are still 19 percentage points ahead, despite losing 5%, while opponents gained 7% over the past few weeks. Seven percent of those questioned are still undecided.
“Approval of the energy law remains more likely than a rejection,” the GfS Bern institute declared in its report.
However, it is too early to call the outcome, cautions Claude Longchamp, chairman of the board of the GfS polling institute.
Voters close to the centre-right Radical Party and those without a clear party affiliation could swing the result.
“The campaign by opponents of the energy policy has had a particularly strong impact among politically independent citizens. Many of them have changed their minds,” says Longchamp.
He also sees a crucial role for grassroots supporters of the Radical Party, which is split down the middle over the government’s energy strategy.
“It seems as if many respondents did not quite trust the pro-campaign,” Longchamp adds.
Left-wing and centrist parties have clearly come out in favour of the energy policy, while the right is opposed, in line with the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which has challenged a parliamentary decision last year about the energy policy by collecting more than 50,000 signatures necessary for a nationwide vote.
The business community is also divided.
Jobs versus costs
The law aims to promote renewable energies provided by domestic suppliers, including wind, hydro- and solar power, and it bans the building of new nuclear power stations. If the law is agreed, the country’s five nuclear reactors will be shut down gradually, starting in 2019.
The campaign over the past few weeks witnessed debates about the costs of the policy shift with both sides accusing each other of presenting misleading information.
“The costs for average households are a critical factor,” says Longchamp.
Another controversy has focused on the replacement of nuclear power through renewable energy sources.
Pollsters say the prospect of new jobs in the renewable energy sector remains the most popular reason for supporters of the energy policy, while the high credibility of Energy Minister Doris Leuthard is also an important factor.
Longchamp also notes that the campaign by supporters has been somewhat fragmented by a host of different arguments resulting in voter fatigue.
“Rather untypically, there has been no increase in the number of respondents who said they will take part in the vote,” says Longchamp.
Swiss voters have had the final say on nuclear power seven times in recent years.
Last November, just over 54% rejected a proposal to limit the lifespan of nuclear power plants, which would lead to an end to nuclear energy production in Switzerland by 2029.
Nevertheless, a recent study has found a solid majority against nuclear power.
The reform of the Swiss energy policy was launched in the wake of the nuclear accident in Japan in 2011. The government foresees a two-phased approach.
While the first step has a good chance of winning approval at the ballot box later this month, a second phase, including the introduction of special climate and electricity taxes, has met staunch opposition in parliament.
Pollsters interviewed 1,410 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the second of two nationwide surveys.
Swiss expatriates are not be included in the poll for data protection reasons.
The telephone interviews, both with fixed line and mobile phone users, took place from April 25 to May 3.
The margin of error is 2.7%.
The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo’s parent company, and carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.