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Voter appeal Rightwing plans boost voter turnout among the left

Trilingual billboards with recommendation to reject initiative for automatic deportation of criminal foreigners

A rightwing initiative to automatically deport criminal foreigners prompted a No recommendation in three languages. The proposal was rejected by voters in 2016


Which ballot box topics in Switzerland have the biggest impact on mobilising party grassroots and supporters from the opposite camp? New research gives some interesting answers.

Based on data from the Vox and Votoexternal link in-depth analyses about nationwide votes from 2002 to 2017, Thomas Milic found that the political right trumps the left when it comes to prompting increased voter turnout among political opponents.

“Initiatives from the rightwing spectrum – mainly from the Swiss People’s Party – succeed in mobilising an above average percentage of their grassroots (60%). But they also have a heightened irritation effect on supporters of the [leftwing] Social Democratic Party (64%),” says the political scientist from Zurich University and the Centre for Democracy Studiesexternal link.

In a studyexternal link published last month Milic cites three highly controversial rightwing initiatives – including the proposals to re-introduce immigration quotas as well as two proposals for the deportation of convicted foreign criminals – which spurred turnouts of between 67% and 78% among Social Democratic supporters.

His findings debunk the idea that the political left failed in its attempt to stop the political right.

“It shows that leftwing grassroots members did take part in the votes and in high numbers after all. The left didn’t exhaust its full potential but it was at least on par with the People’s Party,” Milic says in a contribution to the German-language site of’s special platform external linkon direct democracy.

Limited appeal

More surprising is the conclusion that initiatives launched by the left, notably by the Social Democrats and like-minded groups, have limited appeal for their own grassroots, according to Milic.

Cases in point are initiatives aimed at capping top manager salaries, the introduction of a guaranteed basic income, a proposal for a statutory minimum wage, and a public single health insurance company – all of which resulted in an average turnout rate among the left of 54%.

“Almost every other supporter of the Social Democratic Party stayed away from the polling station,” Milic says.

He argues that the latest rightwing ballot box upsets, notably the immigration curbs or the automatic deportation, were not the result of vote abstention among supporters of left or centrist parties.

He says they were rather driven by the more active participation of a particular segment of citizens that normally stays away from votes: the far-right camp.

Research has shown that only 20-25% of Swiss citizens regularly go to the polls, in that they don’t miss out on any of the up to four sets of nationwide votes every year.

Of the four main political parties, supporters of the Social Democrats notch up an average of 56%, while the People’s Party grassroots come last with 49%.

“The 7% margin may seem relatively small. But it can make the difference between victory and defeat in tight votes,” Milic says.

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