Internet no major tool in Swiss elections

The Internet has come of age in Swiss party politics but has remained a second-tier tool in campaigning for this weekend’s parliamentary elections.

This content was published on October 22, 1999 minutes

The Internet has come of age in Swiss party politics but has remained a second-tier tool in campaigning for this weekend’s parliamentary elections.

As opposed to the last elections four years ago, all four parties represented in the Swiss government – the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, the Radical Party and the People’s Party -- now have a website.

“The Internet is a must for a party that wants to be taken seriously. For us, it is also a matter of our image,” said Guido Schommer of the Radical Party, which presents itself as a forward-looking party ready to tackle the challenges of the future.

The party websites are generally informative but mostly serve as an online platform for party policy statements. While they are in general graphically attractive, they are also not very original and occasionally hard to navigate.

Apart from mostly slow e-mail services, the parties generally avoid chat rooms and speedy two-way communication on their websites.

“We do not want any gimmicks on our website,” Schommer said. “We are a serious party.”

Virtually none of the government party websites offer politically informative games, electronic postcards or other online tools that were widely used in the last parliamentary elections in Germany.

Most Swiss parties, though, work on a limited budget. “We just don’t have the resources at this point to have the kind of Internet presence that we would like to have,” said Martin Grossenbacher, who is in charge of the Social Democrats’ Internet presence.

His view is echoed by most parties, which put their money where the political effect is. In other words: A poster campaign and radio and TV appearances are much more efficient tools than the Internet to reach out to the electorate, according to party secretaries.

“Recent studies have clearly shown that, at this point, the Internet is just not an effective campaign tool,” said Sandra Lo Curto of the Christian Democrats.

Her statement is in line with overall assessments of the impact of the Internet in Switzerland. While the country has one of the highest computer penetrations in Europe, actual Internet connections – while constantly on the increase – are still relatively modest in number.

But although none of the government parties maintains professional website hosting and depends a lot on online volunteer work due to limited budgets, the Internet may soon gain in political importance.

“We are now working on a redesign of our website with the aim of jazzing it up and improving online communication to attract the young voter segment,” said Lo Curto.

Individual politicians across the political spectrum have already shown how it is done, often presenting rather stylish webpage designs and communications tools.

Written by staff.

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