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Positions consolidated in election campaign

Voters seem not too keen on October's parliamentary elections - only 46 per cent said they would go to the polls

(Ex-press)

No clearly dominant issue or political party has yet emerged with four months to go before the October 23 parliamentary elections, the latest opinion poll suggests.

Environmental policy matters are still high on the agenda in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan, but the impact on Swiss politics – known as very stable – has been limited and so far it is smaller groups that have benefited.

The survey by the leading gfs.bern research and polling institute found the political landscape largely stable with the rightwing Swiss People’s Party still on top. It is nearly nine percentage points ahead of the other four main groups, but off its target of 30 per cent (see chart).

“The bigger parties seem to be struggling or stagnating, while two new groups have consolidated their positions,” said Claude Longchamp, who heads the institute.

The centre-right Liberal Greens and the Conservative Democrats are seen as the winners at the moment, while the Radicals – Switzerland’s Grand Old Party – appear to be slipping deeper into crisis, losing credibility notably over recent policy changes.

Even the People’s Party has lost steam, according to political scientist Longchamp.

Pulling power

The party, which for years has been most successful with its political provocations and agenda setting, has seen its progress slowed as its favourite political topics - immigration and security – have been overshadowed by the nuclear issue.

“The magnet People’s Party has lost some of its pulling power for swing voters,” Longchamp said.

He says it remains to be seen whether this situation will persist. But he is convinced that the rightwingers can easily win more than 30 per cent of the vote, again increasing their share of the ballot compared with 2007.

“All it takes is a decisive moment which brings the immigration issue back to the fore. That’s where the party are undeniable champions.”

The centre-left Social Democrats have boosted their voter appeal, but the gains are partly offset by losses to the Greens.

Fukushima

Longchamp remains sceptical that the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant will have a sustained impact on the Swiss election campaign. What’s more it has not led to an increase in those expecting to vote, as just 46 per cent of those interviewed said they would go to the polls.

Longchamp adds that he found no evidence in the findings of the latest election barometer that any party at this stage of the campaign has been able to make major progress.

He acknowledges however that the nuclear issue has marked the government and parliament’s energy policy over the past few months.

“March, the day of the nuclear accident at Fukushima, is likely to go down in the books as the real starting point of the election campaign in Switzerland.

“It is still a long way from having a definite impact on parties or the election in general,” he said.

He says spectacular policy changes by individual parties are perceived as tactical moves by voters who do not necessarily appreciate such re-jigging.

Tactics

He reckons notably the Christian Democrats represented in the cabinet by Energy Minister Doris Leuthard could be disappointed as the poll found only marginal gains compared with the previous survey.

As for the fringe party, the Conservative Democrats, they made a stunning policy u-turn on nuclear energy and appear be popular with traditional supporters of parties from almost the entire political spectrum.

But Longchamp admits that political scientists are at pains to explain why. “The party obviously have strong appeal, but it is the most volatile party and it is not really clear who their supporters are.”

Originally a split-off from the rightwing People’s Party, the Conservative Democrats are standing for the first time in an election to the federal parliament, but already have the backing of three per cent of voters.

Migration

The scientists also examined the attitude of respondents towards migration, the number two policy issue for Swiss citizens.

“Voters rate the benefits of migration higher than drawbacks for society,” the study concludes.

But the findings are seemingly contradictory. Up to 70 per cent of respondents said putting a halt to immigration would, or was likely to, lead to a lack of skilled foreign workers and economic growth could be affected in Switzerland.

Nevertheless three out of five want immigration from European Union countries to be restricted, over fears of overpopulation.

Over the past decade, non-EU member Switzerland has granted access to its labour market, attracting a sizeable number of immigrants notably from neighbouring Germany.

Moves are underway, led by the People’s Party, to force the re-introduction of immigration limits to shield the Swiss from increasing competition on the labour and property markets.

Survey details

The survey is based on 2,006 telephone interviews carried out between June 14 and June 25 with 2011 citizens across the country.

The Swiss Abroad community was not included in the poll.

The margin of error is 2.2%.

It is the fourth in a series of seven studies conducted by the gfs.bern research and polling institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, swissinfo.ch’s parent company.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October 23.

end of infobox

Parties in parliament

There are currently 12 political parties represented in parliament, ranging from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party to the leftwing Popular Worker’s Party, formerly Communist Party.

No party has a majority in either of the two chambers, the House of Representatives or the Senate.

The People’s Party is the strongest group in the house ahead of the centre-left Social Democrats, the centre-right Radicals and the Christian Democrats.

The centre-left Greens as well as the two small centre-right Liberal Greens and the Conservative Democrats also feature prominently.

The Senate is dominated by the two oldest Swiss parties, the Christian Democrats and the Radical Party.

The multi-party government is made up of seven members from five different groups.

end of infobox

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