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Language divide Health vote splits opinion but set for defeat

How sick is the Swiss health insurance system?


A majority of voters is expected to reject a move for a single health insurance scheme at the nationwide ballot on September 28.

The leading GfS Bern research and polling instituteexternal link found that opponentsexternal link have a 11% lead over supporters about six weeks ahead of the voting day. They currently have 51% of the vote. 

A more detailed analysis shows that the initiative by the political centre-left has the backing of two out of five respondents in the survey. The findings do not bode well for the campaigners.

“As a rule, initiatives are likely to lose ground in the weeks before a vote,” says political Claude Longchamp, head of the GfS Bern research institute.

Two-thirds of the respondents don’t believe that the initiative will pass, he adds.


However, supporters of the proposal external linkto scrap the more than 60 private health insurance firms in favour of a public insurer have a majority in the French and Italian-speaking regions of the country.

Longchamp expects a clear language divide to show on September 28, with No votes in the German-speaking region deciding the outcome. This is a regular occurrence in ballots on social issues, he points out.

If it is not approved by voters, it would be the seventh time since 1993 that health reforms have been rejected at the ballot box.

Citizens at the moment appear unconvinced that the proposed new system would lead to lower premiums for the mandatory health insurance, according to Longchamp.

“They seem to believe a status quo is better,” he says.


A plan to bring in line Value Added Tax for the catering sector with the VAT rate for restaurants appears to interest a more limited number of citizens so far.

Nearly one in four respondents in the survey said they were still undecided. Supporters are seven percentage points ahead of opponents, but fall short of an absolute majority.

Political scientist Martina Imfeld says a broad public debate over the issue is still to begin.

Concern over an expected shortfall of revenue and doubts whether customers would benefit from lower VAT rate in restaurants are the most virulent arguments.

“There is potential for a protest vote against the government,” says Imfeld.


Turnout in the September 28 vote is expected to be average, according to the researchers.

The grassroots from the political left and citizens in the French-speaking part of the country have expressed a strong interest, notably in the health reform.

Voter participation is currently expected at 45%, but might increase slightly.

 The ten-year average turnout stands at 44%. But due to the highly controversial issues at stake in the two previous sets of nationwide votes this year – including immigration curbs, minimum salaries and public funding of abortions – average turnout rose to just under 56%.

SBC poll

The pollsters interviewed 1,207 Swiss citizens from across the country for the first of two nationwide surveys ahead of the September 28 vote.

Swiss expatriates are not included in the poll. The telephone interviews took place between August 11 and 16. 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.

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Vote September 28

Voters decide on two separate issues: 

A proposal by centre-left parties, trade unions and patients pressure groups to introduce a single health insurance company. 

An initiative, launched by the restaurant and hotel association, to set a unified Value Added Tax on eating out.

It is the third of four sets of nationwide ballots this year. At the same time, elections and votes on a variety of issues take place at cantonal and local level.

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