Fighter jet purchase remains up in the air

There is considerable opposition against the purchase of 22 Swedish fighter jets for more tha CHF3 billion EQ Images

The Swiss are set to reject the introduction of a minimum wage, according to an opinion poll less than two weeks ahead of voting day. Of the four issues on the nationwide ballot, only the decision to spend billions on new Gripen fighter jets looks too close to call.

This content was published on May 7, 2014

Opponents of the Gripen are still 7% ahead of supporters, but those in favour of the purchase of the Swedish aircraft have succeeded in winning additional ground over the past month to bring them to 44% of the vote. About 5% are undecided. (For details see graphic below)

“It will be tight. The grassroots of the centre-right parties are now in favour of the purchase, but a majority of respondents without links to a political party, and citizens with higher incomes are still against,” says Claude Longchamp of the leading GfS Bern reseach and polling institute.

The political scientists also found a clear urban-rural divide among voters. In addition a majority of women said they are opposed, while most men are in favour.

And the survey, commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, found that people in French and Italian-language regions are more sceptical than voters in the larger German-speaking part of the country.

The campaign has been focusing on the cost of the 22 Swedish aircraft: At least CHF3.1 billion ($3.5 billion) over the next ten years.

And doubts about the choice of the Gripen over another type of aircraft and fundamental criticism of the need for new fighter jets could alter the result on May 18. Longchamp says fears of security concerns in light of the Ukraine crisis appear to have had little impact on the campaign so far.

“A majority of Yes and a majority of No is possible,” he says.

If the acquisition of the jets is rejected it would be a considerable upset and a blow to the government, a majority in parliament and the business community since they have all backed the purchase. Over the past 20 years the government has won an overwhelming majority of votes on military issues.

Job fears

The introduction of a minimum wage is the other high-profile issue to be voted upon on May 18. The poll shows that the proposal by trade unions and centre-left parties will be clearly defeated.

Opposition to what would be the world’s highest minimum wage (CHF22 or $25 per hour) has increased by 10% over the past month. Proponents currently lag 34 percentage points behind.

“Past experience shows that leftwing initiatives stand no real chance of winning against a unified alliance of centrist and rightwing parties,” comments Longchamp.

He says the surprise decision by voters last year to curb top manager salaries does not have enough momentum to influence the decision this time around. Even people who might benefit most from the minimum wage are not sure whether to vote for the initiative.

“Concerns about possible job cuts appear to be the winning argument of the opponents.”

Technical details SBC poll

The pollsters interviewed 1,413 Swiss citizens from across the country for the second of two nationwide surveys ahead of the May 18 vote.

Swiss expatriates are not be included in the poll.

The telephone interviews took place between April 25 and May 3.


The margin of error is 2.7%.

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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Major swing

Two major trends stand out in the campaigns for the third and fourth issues on the ballot.

A proposal to automatically ban convicted paedophiles from working with children still has a 59% majority in favour, but support has dropped by 15% within a month.

This is due to growing concerns that the initiative may be too harsh, and confusion over an alternative legal amendment granting judges some discretion. Therefore there is some room for speculation about the outcome of the vote.

“The initiative could even be rejected if the trend continues,” says political scientist Martina Imfeld.

A fourth issue to be decided on May 19 – a constitutional amendment to boost the role of family doctors in the country’s health system – is uncontroversial. Nearly 20% of respondents are still undecided, but supporters are more than 60 percentage points ahead.

Turnout on May 18 is expected to be above average. The GfS Bern institute says the mix of different issues at stake could result in a voter participation of more than 50%.

Vote May 18 - Four issues

Voters decide on four separate issues:

A proposal by trade unions to introduce a minimum salary of CHF22 ($25) per hour at a nationwide level.

The planned purchase of 22 Swedish Gripen fighter jets for the Swiss Air Force at a cost of CHF3.1 billion.

An initiative, sponsored by concerned parents, to ban for life convicted paedophiles from working with children.

A constitutional amendment to boost the role of family doctors in the country’s health system.

It is the second of up to four sets of nationwide ballots this year.

At the same time, elections and votes on a variety of issues take place at cantonal and local level.

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