A divisive proposal to rein in salaries of top earners, giving shareholders a bigger say, appears to enjoy broad public support, according to an opinion poll ahead of a nationwide vote on March 3.
Nearly two out of three citizens interviewed for the survey across the country said they would approve the controversial initiative. The opponents have so far convinced just 25 per cent of potential voters, while about ten per cent is still undecided.
Claude Longchamp, head of the leading GfS Bern polling institute, says there is a strong resentment against managers considered greedy and against allegedly excessive salaries.
“People are clearly fed up,” the political scientist says.
His survey, carried out across the country earlier this month, found that support for the proposal is considerable among average citizens – people who live in households with a monthly income of up to SFr9,000 ($9,683), professional training and among the middle-aged and older generation with traditionally centre-right political opinions.
However, there is no difference between respondents in the main German, French and Italian-speaking language regions.
Longchamp says supporters of centre-left parties are overwhelmingly in favour, with the grassroots of rightwing Swiss People’s Party also leaning towards approval of the initiative. Centrist parties and their rank and file are split down the middle.
Turnout is not expected to be above average, despite a high-profile drive by supporters and opponents and allegations of negative campaigning, including an agency hiring students to write readers’ letters to the press and targeting online forums with their feedback.
Just under 40 per cent of the respondents told pollsters in mid-January that they would take part in the vote on March 3, according to Longchamp.
This might also come as a surprise since the initiative has the potential to be a populist campaign given its emotional and personalised approach. The proposal is the brainchild of Thomas Minder, a businessman-turned-politician, who has vowed to take on the establishment.
Barring unforeseen events in the next few weeks, this figure is unlikely to rise dramatically, Longchamp adds.
The main arguments of the supporters appear to have had an impact on public opinion, while the veiled threats by opponents of possible job losses, if the initiative goes through, appear to have fallen on deaf ears for the moment.
The polling institute interviewed 1,217 Swiss citizens from across the country for the first 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 January 14 to 19.
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.
Longchamp believes the initiative could get a boost if the People’s Party at a conference this weekend officially recommends a yes-vote at the ballot box.
The alliance of centre-left voters and supporters of the rightwing could consolidate the winning margin.
Centrist parties as well as the influential Swiss Business Federation, which apparently is spending at least SFr8 million on its campaign, has come out against the initiative. They favour an alternative proposal, approved by parliament after years of debate.
“It is still early days,” says Longchamp, adding that the mobilisation of voters could be the decisive factor for March 3.
Family and land use
Two other issues will also go to a nationwide vote: A proposal to boost childcare facilities outside families as well as a law to stop the spread of urban sprawl.
Supporters of the constitutional amendment on family policy are more than 40 percentage points ahead.
A parliament decision to tighten the law on land use, introducing a 20-year freeze on development areas, has a 36 per cent lead over opponents, led by the Association of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and backed by the People’s Party.
While a majority in favour of the revised zoning laws is still uncertain, the proposal to enshrine the promotion of childcare facilities into the constitution appears almost a done deal.
Awareness of the work-life balance has been increasing over the past decade in Switzerland, says Longchamp. He does not believe that a campaign by conservatives could lead to a shift in public opinion.
Issues at stake
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 and 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.
By Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch