The Swiss are sceptical of a controversial proposal to limit population growth in order to reduce Switzerland’s ecological footprint, according to the results of an opinion poll five weeks ahead of a vote on the issue.
Only one in three (35%) people surveyed said they would vote yes on November 30. The poll by the leading GfS Bern research institute found 58% against, with 7% undecided.
Ecopop - launched by a committee of ecologists - wants to limit net immigration to 0.2% of population growth – about 16,000 people annually. The five-year average immigration is about 80,000 people.
“A long shadow is hanging over the Ecopop initiative,” said Claude Longchamp, political scientist and head of the institute, explaining that the Swiss are now aware of the negative consequences any moves to limit immigration could have following a similar vote in February.
At that time, the electorate narrowly approved a rightwing initiative to re-introduce immigration quotas, which could effectively annul an accord on the free movement of people with the European Union.
But Brussels has so far refused to re-negotiate the bilateral agreement which has been in force since 2002. And the European Commission temporarily suspended co-operation on research programmes, film production and a student exchange scheme.
Longchamp did however point out important differences between the February vote and the Ecopop initiative.
The political scientist said so far the campaign had failed to do better for a number of reasons, including the Ecopop committee’s inability to win over support from centre-right and rightwing parties.
He sees an outside chance of an improved result for Ecopop if its backers succeed in mobilising voters who don’t support a political party.
“It would also take a credible, independent personality to give a strong boost to the campaign,” says Longchamp.
The opinion poll also found potential divisions between the leadership of the rightwing People’s Party - like the other main parties it is officially against Ecopop’s initiative - and its grassroots. More than 60% of People’s Party supporters say they would approve the immigration caps for ecological reasons.
Among language regions, only in Italian-speaking southern Switzerland did a majority (51%) of respondents come out in favour.
Longchamp said this was also the case with people considered generally critical of the government as well as low wage earners.
Joining the cabinet and major political parties in opposing the Ecopop initiative are the business community, trade unions, development aid organisations and churches.
During debate in both chambers of parliament earlier this year there were only four votes supporting the plan.
Critics say the initiative is harmful to bilateral relations with the EU – Switzerland’s main trading partner - and could lead to a further shortage of skilled workers following the February vote.
Supporters have argued that population control is necessary to reduce pressure on the environment. Some also say the February immigration curbs do not go far enough and need further tightening.
Even if the initiative is voted down on November 30, immigration issues will likely remain high on the political agenda. Recent surveys, including one by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), show immigration continuing to be a major concern of the Swiss. Therefore immigration is expected to figure strongly in the campaigning ahead of the 2015 parliamentary elections.
A second opinion poll on the November 30 votes - commissioned by the SBC, swissinfo’s parent company - will be published on November 19.
An initiative to set strict rules for Switzerland’s central bank, notably a minimum 20% of gold reserves, appears to be supported by 44% of respondents.
The SBC poll shows 39% against and 17% respondents still undecided.
The proposal, launched by a committee of People’s Party politicians, wants to stop the sale of gold held by the National Bank and store all the reserves in Switzerland.
No major political party has recommended a yes vote.
A third issue to come to a nationwide vote is a leftwing initiative to scrap a preferential fiscal regime for wealthy foreigners in Switzerland, so-called lump sum taxation.
The pollsters interviewed 1,206 Swiss citizens from across the country for the first of two nationwide surveys ahead of the November 30 vote.
Swiss expatriates are not be included in the poll.
The telephone interviews took place between October 13-18.
The margin of error is 2.9%.
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.