A proposal to give shareholders a veto over top manager payments appears to be set for approval in a nationwide vote on March 3, according to the latest opinion poll. Emotions have dominated political campaign events over the past few weeks.
“Opponents of the fat cat initiative must brace themselves for defeat,” said political scientist Claude Longchamp, head of the GfS Bern research and polling institute.
Latest figures show 64 per cent of respondents coming out in favour of the proposal, virtually unchanged from a first opinion poll in January. It was carried out by the same institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo’s parent company.
With 27 per cent against and nine per cent still undecided, there was “very little which points towards a rejection of the initiative”, Longchamp said (for details see graphic).
The poll was completed before headlines last weekend of a massive payout for Daniel Vasella, the chairman of the pharmaceutical company, Novartis.
Longchamp stressed that the survey could not forecast the vote result. He added, however, that his institute had never recorded similarly striking figures on a people’s initiative shortly before the decisive polling day.
The proposal at stake was launched nearly seven years ago by Thomas Minder, a businessman-turned-politician and self-styled anti-establishment champion, in a bid to crack down on excessive manager salaries.
It officially pits the political left against other parties, but Longchamp added that the centre-right and the rightwing are split down the middle, with the rank and file seemingly unwilling to follow the recommendations of their party leaders.
Not only young and left, but also traditionally conservative and low-skilled citizens lean towards approval of the initiative. However, there are no obvious divides among the country’s three main language regions or rural and urban areas, according to pollsters.
Longchamp notes that the past few weeks have been marked by high emotions and a polarisation, notably over the bonus payments to the top ranks of the UBS bank despite a multi-billion franc deficit, and the CHF72 million ($78 million) pay-out – soon withdrawn – to Novartis chairman Vasella.
However, he hesitates to give the outrage over Novartis more weight than the UBS payments published in January.
“The fatal blow for opponents of the initiative has been the string of events, starting with the announcement of Vasella’s retirement, then the UBS bonuses and finally Vasella’s extra payment,” Longchamp argued.
He does not believe that the massive media coverage has had a sustainable impact on potential voters.
“The topic of fat cats has been discussed for several years in parliament and in public and most people have a preconceived opinion,” he said.
The pollsters interviewed 1,412 Swiss citizens from across the country for the second of two nationwide surveys ahead of the March 3 vote.
Swiss expatriates are not be included in the poll.
The telephone interviews took place between February 8 and February 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.
The pollsters were surprised about the findings on a proposed constitutional amendment to boost the chances of young mothers in the job market. The aim of this is to promote the creation of child day-care facilities and improve the work-life balance for families.
Political scientist Martina Imfeld says a marketing drive by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party alongside efforts by the centre-right Radical Party have had a “remarkable impact”.
Support for the amendment dropped by more than ten per cent to 55 per cent exclusively at the expense of supporters, still leaving ten per cent of respondents undecided.
“There is still a majority in favour, but the outcome of the vote is open,” she said.
A reform of zoning laws – the third issue to come to a nationwide vote on March 3 – appears less contested. Support grew over the past month to 59 per cent versus 22 per cent against.
The reform, challenged by the People’s Party and the influential Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, seeks to introduce a 20-year freeze on development areas in an effort to rein in urban sprawl.
Turnout on March 3 is likely to be “slightly above average” – around 45 per cent – according to Longchamp.
Voters have the final say on three separate issues
Curbing manager salaries by strengthening shareholder rights; limiting development areas to prevent the spread of urban sprawl; boosting childcare facilities outside private households.
It is the first set of nationwide ballots this year.
At the same time, elections and votes on a variety of issues take place at cantonal and local level.