Anti-EU immigration initiative set to flop, pollsters say

Supporters of the anti-EU immigration have warned of overcrowded public transport if their initiative is rejected, but Swiss citizens don't seem to agree, according latest opinion polls. © Keystone/Gaetan Bally

A right-wing proposal to scrap an immigration accord with the European Union is unlikely to win approval in a nationwide vote later this month. But voters look set to back CHF6 billion ($6.6 billion) for fighter jets and the introduction of a statutory paternity leave.

This content was published on September 16, 2020 - 06:00

Two other issues on the ballot paper on September 27 – a reform of the hunting law and tax deductions for families with children – have lost ground, according to an opinion poll commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch's parent company.

For more details see the chart below.

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The leading GfS Bern research institute, which carried out the survey about three weeks before the vote, found no major shift in public opinions since March over the proposed changes to Swiss immigration policy.

“Opinions were formed a while ago,” says GfS Bern project leader and political scientist Martina Mousson. “This is hardly surprising since it's not the first time that voters have been asked before to decide on proposals by right-wing groups about immigration restrictions.”

Supporters are 28 percentage points behind opponents, who have warned that approval of the initiative would further damage the country’s prosperity in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has strained the economy.

Switzerland is not a member of the EU – which in turn is Switzerland’s main trading partner – but a bilateral accord on the free movement of people ensures access to each other’s labour markets.

Supporters of the initiative, however, argue that Switzerland should manage its immigration independently from Brussels because the country risks being overcrowded, putting excessive pressure on the environment, on the social security system and on salaries of employees.

Wildlife and tax benefits

A reform of the hunting law and tax benefits for families with children appear to be losing their voter appeal, according to the GfS Bern researchers.

In a marked development since a first opinion poll in August, opponents of regulations aimed at easing the protection of wolves have caught up and are running neck-and-neck with supporters of the reform.

“Several indicators show rejection of the law. But it is too close to call at the moment,” says GfS co-director Lukas Golder.

Environmental groups as well as left-wing parties have criticised the parliamentary decision as “a botched piece of legislation”, forcing a referendum.

The political left also stands a chance of winning a second challenge on September 27. Their campaign to bring down tax breaks for childcare and general fiscal reductions for families appears to have had some success.

Opponents now have a nine percentage point advantage. In a first survey supporters were in the lead. The contentious point is whether well-off families will benefit exclusively from the tax breaks.

There is a clear trend among supporters of several political parties, age groups, social classes and in the different language regions against the tax breaks, according to pollsters.

Paternity leave and fighter jets

No surprises are expected in the votes on the introduction of a statutory paternity leave in Switzerland, nor in a referendum about a multi-billion credit package to upgrade the Swiss air force.

Supporters of a ten-day paid leave for fathers of newborns have a clear lead – nearly 30% – over opponents, who mainly come from the political right and centre-right as well as the main organisation representing small and medium-sized businesses.

Barring a major political upset, Switzerland is poised to introduce paternity leave more than 15 years after it enshrined a 14-week maternity leave in law.

Finally, voters are also set to rebuff a challenge by left-wing and pacifist groups about replacing the air force’s fighter jet fleet. Parliament and the government have come out in favour of the funds.

The latest poll shows opponents 16 percentage points behind.

A previous vote on the purchase of new fighter jets ended in a defeat for the government at the ballot box six years ago.

Campaign and turnout

What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on the campaign so far? It’s been difficult for campaigners to stir up opposition despite or because of the Covid-19 crisis, says Golder.

“Citizens seem to be able to make informed decisions,” he says. “Based on our research, voters won’t use their ballot sheet to express their frustration with a straight set of ‘no’ votes.”

“The most obvious impact of Covid-19 is that the votes scheduled for May were postponed to September,” adds his colleague Mousson. “Additional factors appear to have been shared out equally between opponents and supporters of the five separate issues at stake.”

The pollsters expect turnout to be slightly above average, at around 47%.

Following votes in February, it is only the second time this year that Swiss voters decide on nationwide issues. A vote set for May was cancelled due to the restrictions in public life over the Covid-19 pandemic.

Polling details

Pollsters interviewed 17,909 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the second of two nationwide surveys.

The survey is based on online responses as well as telephone interviews, both with fixed line and mobile phone users, and was carried out from September 2-10.

The margin of error is +/- 2.7%.

The poll was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and carried out by the GfS Bern research institute.

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