Basic income plan clearly rejected by Swiss voters

An unconditional basic income isn't coming to Switzerland any time soon after Sunday's vote result

Switzerland has become the first country in the world to hold a nationwide vote on introducing an unconditional basic income. Despite a spectacular pro campaign, there was no hope of it winning a majority.

This content was published on June 5, 2016 - 18:00

Official final results show the proposal winning 23.1% of the vote and all the country's 26 cantons coming out against.

Only one commune in western Switzerland and a few districts in the cities of Geneva and Zurich came out in favour. 

"The campaigners failed to present a convincing funding scheme for their proposal. But they managed to launch a broad debate about an unconditional basic income," says senior political scientist Claude Longchamp.

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The promoters – a group of humanists, artists and entrepreneurs – have admitted defeat but they have pledged to continue their campaign.

"There is a genuine interest in the issue as numerous public discussions have shown," says Oswald Sigg of the initiative committee.  

In comparison, an initiative aimed at a fundamental overhaul of the consumer tax system won just 8% approval in a nationwide vote last year - the worst ballot box defeat since 1971. And a highly controversial proposal by a pacifist group to abolish Switzerland’s armed forces had the backing of 35.6% of voters in 1989.

In 2014, an initiative calling for a monthly minimum salary of CHF4,000 was rejected by 76.3% of voters.

Interior Minister Alain Berset said the clear outcome of the latest ballot was a public endorsement of the existing social security system in Switzerland.

"Our welfare system has been tried and tested over the years and there is no need for a revolution," he told a news conference.

He added that the government was aware of need to adapt the system and the challenges of a further industrial development, notably the threats for workers in an age of robotisation.

Value of work

The campaigners believe an unconditional basic income would allow all residents to live in dignity, as the money would help cover essential needs and they would be free to choose a more creative way of living.

The proposal aimed at reforming the cumbersome existing social security systems, boosting volunteer work and softening the impact of social disruption caused by technological change.

The promoters have set no specific amount for a basic income, but they have mentioned a monthly figure of CHF2,500 ($2,510) per adult and CHF625 for minors.

This is slightly higher than the current maximum monthly state old age pension allowance and corresponds to what is considered the breadline in Switzerland.

Countries as diverse as Brazil, Finland, Italy and the Netherlands, local and national governments are already experimenting with the idea of introducing some form of basic income. A limited trial also took place in Canada in the 1970s.


Opponents said the initiative in Switzerland would be too costly, undermine the ethical value of work and encourage immigration.

The government warned of damaging the Swiss economy and the welfare state, saying that an unconditional basic income could cost more than CHF200 billion ($201 billion) annually, leading to hefty tax increases and cuts in public spending.

Support for the initiative was limited to the political left – the Green Party and to some extent the Social Democrats – but the trade unions have come out against it.

The respected Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper, which has close links to the country’s business community, described the initiative as “direct democratic hot air”.


The promoters have repeatedly said they did not expect their proposal to win a majority of votes on Sunday but they are convinced it is simply a matter of time before a basic income will be commonplace at an international level.

Their campaign, which included spectacular publicity stunts such as giving away free CHF10 notes, has divided opinion.

It won praise as a creative and clever attempt to raise public awareness and maintain interest, while critics slammed it as a narcissistic marketing endeavour by a group of attention-seeking utopists and idealists.

The initiative had been expected to win between 20-30% of the vote according to opinion polls.

Result box vote June 5

Basic income initiative:

23.1% yes         76.9.% no

Asylum reform:

66.8% yes         33.2% no

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis:

62.4% yes         37.6% no

Public service companies:

32.4% yes         67.6.% no

Road traffic funding:

29.2% yes         70.8% no

Turnout: 46.4% 

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