Lump sum tax splits political centre

Voters in Nidwalden decided to maintain lump sum taxation in ballot last year. Keystone

A leftwing initiative to scrap a preferential tax regime for wealthy foreigners will likely fall short of an absolute majority. A poll found 48% of respondents in favour but the campaign still has to get underway. 

This content was published on October 24, 2014 minutes

Five weeks ahead of a nationwide vote on November 30, supporters of the initiative have a 12% lead, according to a survey carried out by the GfS Bern research and polling institute in mid-October. But with the campaign by both camps only just starting, 16% of respondents said they are still undecided. “People are now beginning to make up their minds,” says GfS Bern political scientist Martina Imfeld.

The issue pits the left, including the trade unions, against all the other major parties. The government as well as the business community also recommend a no vote, saying abolition of lump sum taxation could damage Switzerland’s economy. Supporters argue a preferential fiscal treatment goes against the fundamental principle of tax justice enshrined in the constitution. 

Imfeld says rejection of the initiative at the end of next month is more likely than approval, despite a potential of protest votes. Initiatives often lose support as the campaign gathers pace and those undecided join the no camp, according to GfS Bern’s over 20 years of scientific experience as pollsters. 


The latest survey found that the grassroots of centrist and rightwing parties are currently divided. Low and average income earners are also split down the middle. 

The four cantons with the bulk of lump sum-taxed foreigners - Geneva, Vaud, Valais and Ticino - could play a crucial part, says Imfeld. Two of them often vote with the political left. But it remains to be seen whether or not the relatively high number of undecided respondents in the French-speaking part will support the initiative, she adds. 

Previous votes

Zurich was the first canton to abolished lump sum taxation in 2009. Four others – out of a total of 26 - later followed suit. Five cantons decided to maintain the regime but tightened the rules. 

The system of lump sum taxation is based on the lifestyle and spending habits of the taxpayer in Switzerland and not on the actual revenue or fortune. About 5,600 people, mainly living on Lake Geneva, Ticino and in mountain resorts in canton Valais, benefit from the preferential regime. 

It is believed that the beneficiaries of the tax regime include Formula One elites Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Ecclestone, as well as Russian billionaires Viktor Vekselberg and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Celebrities from the entertainment industry such as singer Phil Collins and actress Julie Andrews, have also been living in Switzerland.

Gold reserves

An initiative to set strict rules for Switzerland’s central bank, notably a minimum 20% of gold reserves, appears to be supported by 44% of respondents. 

The SBC poll shows 39% against and 17% respondents still undecided. 

The proposal, launched by a committee of People’s Party politicians, wants to stop the sale of gold held by the National Bank and store all the reserves in Switzerland. 

No major political party has recommended a yes vote. 

SBC poll

The pollsters interviewed 1,206 Swiss citizens from across the country for the first of two nationwide surveys ahead of the November 30 vote. 

Swiss expatriates are not be included in the poll. 

The telephone interviews took place between October 13-18. 

The margin of error is 2.9%. 

The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo’s parent company, and carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.

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