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Political parties lose grass-roots support

Parties are finding it hard to attract new members Keystone

Switzerland’s main political parties have suffered a dramatic loss in the number of members over the past 15 years.

This content was published on March 29, 2005 - 13:52

The study by Zurich University also showed that the parties are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit candidates for political positions.

The survey found that the membership base of Switzerland’s four main political parties had decreased by 20 per cent since 1990.

The centre-right Christian Democrats and the Radicals fared the worst, losing 25 per cent and 27 per cent of members respectively, according to the study, which was published on Tuesday.

The drop in numbers was less pronounced among the rightwing Swiss People’s Party (down by 13 per cent) and the centre-left Social Democrats, which lost 15 per cent during the same period.

The phenomenon was particularly prevalent in a number of German-speaking cantons, such as Lucerne, St Gallen and Aargau.

The authors of the report said political parties were facing a crisis as a result of a trend towards increasing individualism.

They added that the tendency was likely to continue and posed a serious challenge to Switzerland’s political system, which is traditionally based on compromises among the four leading parties.

Low prestige

The number of active party members also slumped during the period examined.

Again, the worst hit were the Radicals and Christian Democrats with a 46 per cent drop in active members. While the Social Democrats recorded a drop of 17 per cent, the People’s Party were worse affected with a 30 per cent reduction.

The dwindling support made it difficult for the parties to find suitable people for political positions on local and regional levels, according to the survey.

However, it added that there was apparently no lack of candidates for more prestigious jobs on a national level.

At the same time the average age of party members rose – the study found that young people showed little interest in party politics, resulting in a high number of older stalwarts.

But the People’s Party was the only group to actually increase its network of local branches during the past 15 years, strengthening its presence in western Switzerland.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland’s main political parties are the rightwing People’s Party, the centre-left Social Democrats and the two centre-right Radicals and Christian Democrats.
They have all lost support at grass-roots level since 1990, particularly among the young Swiss, affecting the Radicals and Christian Democrats the most.
The result is based on two surveys by Zurich University in 1989-90 and 2003-04 on 5,000 local chapters of the parties.

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