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Election barometer Ties with EU become key issue for Swiss voters

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Rising health insurance premiums are still considered a key issue for Swiss citizens but climate change and Switzerland's relations with the EU have also become crucial for choosing a political party for parliament.  

(Keystone / Anthony Anex)

Relations between Switzerland and the European Union are currently the most relevant issue for voters ahead of October’s parliamentary elections according to the latest opinion poll. The Green Party as well as the Liberal Greens look set to make the biggest gains compared to the 2015 elections.

Of the eight main political parties represented in the Swiss parliament, the rightwing Swiss People’s Party remains top with 27%, nearly ten percentage points ahead of the leftwing Social Democrats and the centre-right Radicals.

Over 12,000 citizens took part in the online survey carried out by the Sotomo research instituteexternal link based primarily on polls posted on the German, French and Italian online sites of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.

The expatriate Swiss community could not be included in the analysis as the number of respondents was insufficient, according to Sotomo.

Bar chart about strength of political parties compared with results with 2015 elections
(swissinfo.ch)

Both the People’s Party and the Social Democrats have emerged as the most prominent losers in the poll, while the Radicals again won additional ground compared with a previous Sotomo poll published last October.

Overall, parties to the right (People’s Party and Radicals together) have weakened by 1.4%, while the left (aggregated Social Democrats and Green) won 1%.

Polling details

The SBC Election Barometer is an online poll by the Sotomo research institute in Zurich.

The third of six surveys is based on valid data from 12,085 respondents. It was carried out between February 1-7.

The margin of error is +/- 1.5% according to Sotomo.

end of infobox

The Zurich-based research institute produces the surveys on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) in the run-up to the October 20, 2019 parliamentary elections.

“It’s also notable that the centre [Christian Democrats, Liberal Greens and Conservative Democrats] has been able to win support in the latest survey,” says Michael Hermann, director of Sotomo.

However, the gains only partially compensate a shift to right in the House of Representatives witnessed during the 2015 elections. The People’s Party and Radicals currently hold a wafer-thin majority in this parliamentary chamber.

EU and climate

The researchers say that bilateral relations between Switzerland and the EU, as well as health insurance premiums, are considered the most relevant issues (at 47% each) when voters choose which political party to support.

In third position, with 38%, are climate change/CO2 emissions issues, according to the Sotomo survey. This is up 8% on the October poll, while the reform of the old age pension scheme and immigration both lost ground.

But the latter is still a primary concern of respondents who consider themselves supporters of the political right.

Hermann pointed out that notably the Social Democrat leadership faces a major campaign challenge as the party grassroots put health premiums and climate change high on the agenda - topics that have been successfully promoted by other parties.

The Radicals for their part appear to be in a similar quandary as their supporters give relations with the EU top priority. But the party president has recently launched a campaign to boost climate issues in line with a wave of public interest in the environmental topic - traditionally a political focus of the Greens and the Liberal Greens.

Switzerland’s three main language regions have their specific priorities: The German and the French-language regions put EU relations, health insurance and climate issues at the top, but not in the same order. However, citizens in the Italian-speaking part consider EU relations, immigration and Swiss independence before everything else.

Government ministers

The Sotomo researchers also tried to gauge citizens’ support for the government, the two parliamentary chambers and notably the popularity and perceived influence of individual cabinet ministers.

Perhaps surprisingly, Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis was rated poorly while Interior Minister Alain Berset came out top ahead of Finance Minister Ueli Maurer.

However, Sotomo researcher Hermann cautions that such rankings are of limited importance and their impact on parliamentary elections is marginal.

“The political agenda of a political party is the decisive factor for most voters,” Hermann says.

Parliamentary elections Can Greta’s generation make a mark on Swiss politics?

Climate change protests spearheaded by a Swedish teen have energised Swiss youth. Can such political participation carry over into the elections?

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