The construction of a second road tunnel through the central Swiss Alps has widespread support ahead of a nationwide vote on February 28. A proposal to deport criminal foreigners is too close to call, according to an opinion poll.
The leading GfS Bern research institute polled Swiss citizens ten days ago on four separate issues which will be decided at the end of next month.
For details, see the graphic below. The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company.
Figures published on Friday show government plans for a second Gotthard road tunnel with widespread backing and opponents lagging 35 percentage points behind.
Political scientist Martina Mousson says safety is the most frequently cited reason in favour of an additional tunnel. There are also concerns that the southern Ticino region might be cut off from the rest of the country, since the existing tunnel will have to undergo renovation after 35 years.
The 17km Gotthard tunnel is one of the main thoroughfares between northern and southern Europe.
The project, as approved by parliament last year, is estimated to cost about CHF2.8 billion ($2.77 billion). The government said only one lane in each of the two tunnels will ultimately be in use.
However, leftwing opponents and environmentalists fear Switzerland might come under pressure from neighbouring countries to open a second lane soon after completion of the project, planned for 2030.
February 28 vote
Four separate issues feature on the ballot sheet on February 28:
An initiative to implement to the letter an initiative to deport criminal foreigners.
A plan by parliament to build a second road tunnel through the central Swiss Alps.
An initiative to end fiscal discrimination against married couples.
An initiative to ban financial speculation with foodstuffs.
“Opponents have successfully raised doubts about whether the new tunnel will reduce the risk of traffic congestion,” Mousson said.
Every year, about five million cars and 900,000 trucks use the Gotthard route, known for its long tailbacks both sides of the tunnel, especially during holiday seasons.
Another highly controversial issue to come to a nationwide is a proposal by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to deport foreigners who are found guilty of certain serious crimes. Pollsters found 51% of respondents in favour of the initiative and 7% undecided.
Claude Longchamp, director of GfS Bern research institute, says the proposal has the potential to attract protest votes against the political elite.
“The higher the turnout, the more likely there will be a majority for the initiative. The votes of citizens close to centre-right parties and those without any particular party affiliation will make the difference,” he says.
The poll found citizens with lower income and low professional skills coming out in favour, as did young respondents in general.
It is a follow-up to a previous initiative calling for the automatic expulsion of criminal foreigners approved by 52.9% of voters in 2010. But the political right accused parliament of watering down voters’ intentions and forced a new vote, demanding implementation to the letter of the 2010 initiative.
“Over the past few weeks the Swiss media have focused on negative aspects of the initiative, but there is still a majority for the proposal,” Longchamp says.
He notes that the promoters of the so-called enforcement initiative have been able to get across a simple, unambiguous and populist message: criminal foreigners must leave the country.
A debate has been held over whether the initiative should apply to people who are born in Switzerland but who do not have Swiss citizenship, but Longchamp says it is not very likely that this will have an impact on the outcome.
He also says the sexual assaults by foreigners on New Year’s revellers in neighbouring Germany are unlikely to be a major factor in the campaign ahead of the February 28 vote.
He points to the virtual absence of posters in public, although the campaign is in full swing.
The GfS Bern research and polling institute interviewed 1,213 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the first of two nationwide surveys ahead of the February 28 vote. Swiss expatriates are not included in the poll.
The telephone interviews took place between January 11-15. The margin of error is 2.9%.
The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and was carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.
Compared with previous polls last year, support for the initiative has dropped, but experts say the race remains open.
Surprise and game over
However, the outcome of a vote on a proposal by the leftwing Young Socialists to ban financial speculation with foodstuffs appears to be a foregone conclusion.
There are no signs that the promoters could catch up – even though they are only nine percentage points behind their opponents. As a rule, initiatives lose ground towards the end of a campaign.
“This initiative will share the fate of all leftwing initiatives in Switzerland,” says Longchamp.
On the other hand, a tax initiative by the centrist Christian Democratic Party got off to a surprisingly good start with a lead of 46 percentage points.
“This is the second highest score for an initiative since 1992,” says Longchamp.
The proposal seeks to grant tax breaks for married couples, putting them on a par with couples living together without marriage certificates.
The final GfS Bern poll, to be published on February 18, will give a clearer indication of whether the promoters can keep opponents at arm’s length.
Previous recent initiatives on family tax issues also looked promising initially, but they eventually nosedived spectacularly on voting day.
Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch