Support has been growing for a proposal to limit immigration to reduce the ecological footprint, a final opinion poll found ahead of a nationwide vote on November 30.
The initiative, launched by a group of ecologists, aims to promote population control by imposing strict immigration limits and boosting family planning in developing countries.
In the poll carried out by the GfS Bern research and polling institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, nearly 40% of respondents came out in favour. The number of supporters has increased by 4% over the past month, but they are still 17 percentage point behind, while 5% are still undecided. (See graphic)
Political scientist Claude Longchamp said the situation should not be underestimated.
Independent voters and conservatives beyond the rightwing political spectrum tended to support the initiative, according to the pollster. The outcome of the ballot is still uncertain should a large enough number opt for a protest vote.
Protest vote potential
“The approval rate has risen notably among those who want to put pressure on the government to implement immigration curbs agreed in a nationwide vote on February 9.”
He said the potential for a protest vote goes beyond the traditional supporters of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and those without specific links to a political group. “The campaigners succeeded in mobilising a limited potential of low income earners and the low skilled – typically citizens who favour a policy of isolation.”
As expected, pollsters saw the majority of supporters hailed from the southern canton of Ticino, which traditionally opposes immigration as part of its anti-European policy stance.
The majority German-speaking and certainly the French-speaking parts of the country are against the initiative.
The ecologists behind the initiative want to limit immigration to 0.2% of net population growth in Switzerland over three years – about 16,000 people in absolute figures.
Currently more than 80,000 mainly European Union citizens immigrate into Switzerland on average every year.
With the exception of a conservative anti-European pressure group, all major political parties, organisations as well as the government and the business community have come out against the initiative.
They have warned of serious economic and social consequences for Switzerland and for its political ties with the 28-nation EU. Relations have been strained since February when voters approved a proposal by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to re-introduce immigration quotas.
The pollsters interviewed 1,412 Swiss citizens from across the country for the second of two nationwide surveys ahead of the November 30 vote.
Swiss expatriates are not included in the poll.
The telephone interviews took place between November 7-15.
The margin of error is 2.7%.
The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo’s parent company, and carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.
In the latest campaign, opponents, including cabinet ministers, business leaders and newspaper editorialists, have left little doubt about their attitude. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper repeatedly appealed to individual citizens’ sense of responsibility and the commitment of the business community to fight for a liberal immigration policy.
Even People’s Party strongman Christoph Blocher warned against approval of the initiative, while trading accusations with the government over a potential upset at the ballot box.
Longchamp drew certain parallels between the campaigns on immigration quotas and population control. “Certain tends are similar, but they are on a different scale,” he said.
While support for February’s rightwing initiative rose by 6% to 43% between the first and the second opinion polls, the Ecopop proposal won 39% in Wednesday’s second poll – up just 4%.
Longchamp said the other notable difference was that only a minority of respondents approved of the aims of the initiative. Potential supporters argue it is necessary to put further pressure on the government.
“The initiative has a certain appeal but there seems to be no real interest in a recurrence of the February upset.”
Issues at stake
The vote on population control, combined with family planning and immigration curbs in one of three issues to come to vote on November 30.
An separate initiative by a leftwing grouping aims to abolish a preferential fiscal treatment of wealthy foreigners in Switzerland.
A rightwing committee for its part seeks to ban the sale of gold by the National Bank, set a 20% minimum amount of gold reserves and ensure it is stored in Switzerland only.