Anti-immigration vote not due to demographic pressures

Campaign poster for the 'Yes' vote, declares 'Excess does damage" in Weinfelden in canton Thurgau.

The pressure of increasing numbers of people moving to Switzerland was not one of the main factors behind citizens backing a recent controversial proposal to curb immigration. They voted based on personal values, a new study has revealed.

This content was published on December 18, 2014 - 11:47 with agencies

“Neither regional population density, population growth nor shrinking farmland had a direct influence on the [February 9, 2014] vote,” declared Michael Hermann, a political scientist and director of the Zurich research institute SotomoExternal link.

He said people voted instead according to their system of values: “Attitudes towards foreigners were twenty times more influential.”

On February 9, 2014, Swiss voters narrowly voted in favour (50.3%) of an initiative to limit immigration. The move by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party – known for its anti-foreigner and anti-European Union agenda – calls for a reintroduction of quotas on foreign workers entering Switzerland, as well as a national preference when filling job vacancies and restrictions of immigrants’ rights to social benefits. The government now has three years to implement these changes.

Hermann said that the fear of land being built over and transformed into villas, flats or roads as a result of rising net immigration only played a marginal role in the vote.

“The rate of approval for the initiative does not correspond to the growth dynamics of each commune,” he said.

Communes that voted largely for immigration curbs were those which support isolationist foreign policies, are more suspicious about foreigners and place value on traditions and national identity.

The study said citizens had become more skeptical about the bilateral accord with the EU on the free movement of people, especially since 2009. This skepticism had increased in line with political support for nationalist-conservative ideas, rather than reflecting whether a particular commune had more or fewer foreign residents, it added.

Many observers say the vote was a reaction to recent increases in net immigration, which has been running at about 80,000 people per year for the past five years. Foreigners now make up about 23% of the Swiss population of eight million.

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