Opponents of restrictions on gun ownership in Switzerland have not been able to win substantial additional support over the past months, according to an opinion poll ahead of a nationwide vote on May 19.
The No camp lags more than 30 percentage points behind the supporters, a survey published by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday has found.
Pollsters at the leading GfS Bern research instituteexternal link also say that the challengers of a second topic to be voted on, to overhaul the country’s corporate tax system while giving a financial boost to the old age pension scheme, are nearly 25 percentage points behind (see chart).
Compared with a first poll published in mid-April, no major changes were observed over the past few weeks. The referendum committee – made up of the Swiss gun lobby, hunters, gunsmiths with the political backing of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party – are facing a united front from all the other major parties, parliament, and the government.
Supporters argue that failure to reform the gun law in line with European Union regulations would jeopardise Switzerland’s membership in the Schengen single border security area.
Challenging a decision by parliament, opponents say the legal amendment undermines fundamental Swiss values and would ultimately lead to the ‘disarmament’ of the country Switzerland.
They also described the measures, including restrictions on the use of semi-automatic firearms, as useless in combatting terrorism.
The opinions of supporters and opponents became even more entrenched since the last survey, said Edward Weber, political scientist at the GfS Bern institute.
“The campaign resulted in even more polarisation,” he says. Even though the gun lobby was well organised and active, particularly on social media channels, it was stifled by an overpowering front of supporters of the reform.
That said, the public campaign has remained relatively moderate, despite an aggressive tone underpinning many statements, notably from opponents, Weber added.
The gun lobby has been fighting a losing battle from the very beginning, having limited financial means and enjoying only low-profile support from the People’s Party.
Weber says that barring a major last-minute upset in the final days of the campaign, the gun law will easily win a majority at the ballot box on May 19. He expects citizens notably in urban areas, as well as women to come out in favour of the reform.
The other issue to be put to Swiss voters, a parliamentary decision to overhaul the corporate tax system, abolishing certain fiscal advantages for multinationals, also has good chances of winning approval.
The poll found no signs – neither among the grassroots of any party, nor among any specific societal groups – of increasing opposition or a protest vote against the government and parliament.
Lukas Golder, political scientist and co-director of the GfS Bern institute, said the relatively moderate campaign by both supporters and opponents failed to spark any heated debate.
With initial opposition from both the right and the left, it seemed possible that a strong front would be built up against the tax reform, Golder said. But efforts notably by the Greens and trade unions were ineffective, while the People’s Party softened its stance over the past weeks, declining to give a clear recommendation to its grassroots.
“A better result for the opponents may have been possible given the valid argument that the proposed reform is undemocratic because it links two unrelated issues,” argues Golder.
Instead, respondents taking part in the final poll said they were convinced that a No vote would damage the competitive edge of the Swiss economy and the ailing old age pension system could be seriously threatened if it doesn’t benefit from the promised CHF2 billion ($2 billion) financial boost.
Turnout on May 19 is expected to reach an average level of 45%.
Pollsters interviewed 5,817 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 April 23-30.
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.