The popularity of the rightwing Swiss People's Party has reached an all-time high, according to a new poll.
The survey on voting intentions at October's parliamentary elections showed the People's Party share of the vote rising to 26 per cent.
One of the most important trends to come out of the survey, according to political analyst, Claude Longchamp, is the strengthening of support for the political parties at either end of the political spectrum.
"It was a trend we saw clearly at the last election [in 1999]," said Longchamp, whose GfS institute carried out the poll. "And it's continuing with the People's Party on the Right and the Social Democrats on the Left making the greatest gains."
The survey's findings also show another jump in the number of people saying they intend to vote - 53 per cent compared with 43 per cent in 1999.
The rise in support for the People's Party is just one per cent over the level in a similar survey carried out last October, but well ahead of the 22.5 per cent the party secured at the last election.
The state of the parties
Although the poll, commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, shows only a slight increase in support for the Social Democrats since last October - up to 23.4 per cent - the party scores well when it comes to attracting new voters and dealing with the major policy issues.
The Radical Party's popularity is down to 18.9 per cent, and a new trend shows the party haemorrhaging support to the Left as well as the Right.
Backing for the Christian Democratic Party is up to 15.4 per cent. But while it is maintaining its core support, it is the least successful of the four parties in government at attracting new voters.
Weakening of the Centre
The gains made by the Right and Left are being made at the expense of the Radicals and the Christian Democrats - the two parties closest to the political Centre.
Longchamp says the growth of the People's Party in particular is coming from voters who identify themselves as being in the Centre of Swiss politics.
"The political Centre is again having difficulty in maintaining its support," he told swissinfo.
"There is a greater political awareness [among the electorate} in Switzerland, and the intention to vote is on the increase.
"The parties with a greater profile are benefiting most from that tendency and they are seen as more competent on the issues dominating the political agenda."
People and issues
Longchamp says the poll showed that voters' intentions are as much swayed by personality as by issues.
While the People's Party has seen a drop in the nationwide approval rating of two of its best-known figures - Christoph Blocher and the Party president Ueli Maurer- it has managed to gain voter confidence in what has now become the major political issue according to the survey - asylum.
"Asylum has become the most controversial challenge for the Swiss," Longchamp said. "And the People's Party has been able to gain in popularity through the strength of its policy in this area."
Other policy areas the Swiss consider important are unemployment and the economy, health, pensions and welfare and Europe - all areas in which the Social Democrats get a high competence or approval rating.
The national approval rating of the Radical Party's newly elected president, Christiane Langenberger has soared according to the survey. She is now second just behind the Social Democrats president, Christiane Brunner, even though the survey was carried out before her election took place.
The poll was conducted by the GfS research institute in Bern on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation and two national newspapers over a ten-day period at the turn of the year among 2,035 people.
swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton
The People's Party leads the latest opinion poll with 26 per cent, followed by the Social Democrats (23.4), the Radicals (18.9) and the Christian Democrats (15.4).
At the 1999 election the People's Party and the Social Democrats both picked up 22.5 per cent of the vote.
The number of people saying they intend to vote is up from 43 per cent (1999) to 53 per cent.
Among politicians, the Social Democratic Party president, Christiane Brunner, has the highest nationwide approval rating.
The next parliamentary election will take place on October 19, 2003.
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