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June vote Inheritance tax wins no favours in opinion poll

Stamps in a tax office waiting to be used on official documents for inheritance and bequests  


A proposal by centre-left parties to introduce a nationwide inheritance tax appears to be falling on deaf ears, according to pollsters. But opinions are split over a controversial plan to reform the funding system for public radio and television.

A poll commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) –’s parent company – found that opponents of a nationwide inheritance tax have a 13-point lead nearly seven weeks ahead of the June 14 vote.

“The case seems to be clear,” says political scientist Martina Imfeld of the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute, which published the study on Friday.

With 11% of respondents still undecided and given data of similar financial initiatives, chances of winning a majority are virtually non-existent.

The proposal, launched by the centrist Protestant Party and supported by the leftwing Social Democrats and Greens, aims to impose a 20% tax on bequests worth more than CHF2 million ($2.2 million) but allowing for exceptions for company property.

Three-quarters of the revenue is destined for the state pension system.

However, a majority in parliament as well as the government and the business community have warned of the damaging effect, notably for small and medium-sized enterprises – the backbone of Switzerland’s economy.

Opponents from the political right to the centre also argue the initiative undermines the fiscal sovereignty of the largely autonomous 26 cantons.

“They have launched a broadly focused campaign,” says Imfeld. “The opposition has successfully stressed the financial burden for family businesses, as well as concerns over legal uncertainty and fiscal autonomy.”


The left, which is fighting for social justice, hasn’t been able to convince a majority beyond its own grassroots, according to the pollsters.

No majorities

Arguably the most controversial issue on June 14 – a parliamentary decision to adapt the funding system for public radio and television – appears to polarise citizens.

Supporters and opponents of an amended law are running neck-and-neck, with only 9% of respondents in the poll saying they are still undecided.

“There is no majority for either side,” says Claude Longchamp, head of the GfS Bern institute, who sees considerable potential for a protest vote.

Vote June 14, 2015

Four separate issues feature on the ballot sheet:

A proposal, supported by the centre-left, to introduce a nationwide inheritance tax.

A constitutional amendment to allow the genetic screening of IVF embryos.

An initiative to streamline student grants across the country.

A referendum against a parliamentary decision to reform the funding on public radio and television.

A second GfS Bern poll is due to be published in early June.

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“Trust in the government and public institutions such as the SBC could play an important part,” he says. “At the moment the debate over public service broadcasting appears to be a bit muddled and no side has a clear advantage.”

Longchamp says it is striking to see that respondents have not really gone in for the government pledge to reduce the licence fee under the new system, and that the French- and Italian-speaking minorities are showing hardly any more support for the reform than the majority German-speakers.

Parliament and the government want to impose the fee on every household and company regardless of whether they have a television or a radio. Supporters also stress the importance of public broadcasting for the cohesion of a country like Switzerland with significant linguistic minorities.

Supporters also say the financing system needs to be adapted when radio and television services are available over the internet.

However, the Association of Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises, which has challenged the parliamentary decision to a nationwide vote, says the reform is unfair.

Embryo profiling and student grants

Poll details

The GfS Bern research and polling institute interviewed 1,212 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the first of two nationwide surveys ahead of the June 14 vote.

Swiss expatriates are not included in the poll.

The telephone interviews took place between April 27 and May 2.

The margin of error is 2.9%.

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The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation,’s parent company, and carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.The first of two GfS polls found support lagging for a constitutional amendment to legalise the screening of test tube embryos, but 16% of respondents still have to make up their minds. (For detail see graphic above)

“It is a complex, scientific issue,” says Imfeld. “Voters will have to choose between rational arguments and emotions,” she adds.

Switzerland is one of the few countries in Europe where the profiling of in vitro fertilised (IVF) embryos is banned.

Experts estimate there will be 700 cases of so-called preimplantation diagnostics – out of 6,000 IVF treatments – every year in Switzerland if the constitutional amendment and the accompanying legal changes pass at the ballot box.

A fourth issue to come to a vote on June 14 is an initiative by student organisations to streamline the system of grants for higher education.

It would overrule the current system, which leaves the financial support at the discretion of the cantons.

The plan could lead to extra costs of CHF500 million annually for the federal and cantonal authorities.

Pollsters say the proposal has a surprising 12-point lead at the beginning of the campaign, but they expect the initiative to lose ground over the next few weeks.

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