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Immigration and ebbing green wave shaped 2023 Swiss elections

Social Democrats Senate candidate Flavia Wasserfallen reacts to the election announcement at the centre of the photo. She is smiling and both hands are on her face. Green candidate Bernhard Pulver is to her right. Those around them are smiling, cheering and clapping.
The left-wing Social Democrats benefited from debates about purchasing power and health insurance premiums. Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle

Concerns about immigration and the receding green wave of 2019 were what gave the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and the left-wing Social Democratic Party gains in Switzerland’s 2023 federal elections.  

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The People’s Party was able to better mobilise voters, while the Social Democrats benefited from debates about purchasing power and health insurance premiums.  

These were the findings of a study presented in Bern on Thursday by the Selects election research project, which was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and conducted by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences (FORS) in Lausanne.  

People’s Party mobilised more strongly  

The People’s Party was able to mobilise more strongly than in 2019 and, according to the study, voters remained loyal. Some 55% of people who identified with the right went to the polls, compared to 49% four years earlier. And almost nine out of ten people who voted for the People’s Party in 2019 also did so in autumn 2023.  

The right was also able to seduce voter share away from the Radical-Liberal Party and the former Christian Democratic and Conservative Democratic parties of 2019, taking 14% from the Radical-Liberals and 7% from what is now the Centre Party.  

The Greens and the Liberal Greens, on the other hand, were unable to hold on to all the votes they won in the green wave of 2019. In the autumn, 54% of voters remained loyal to the Greens and 61% to the Liberal Greens, while around a quarter of Green voters opted for the Social Democrats in 2023.  

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The Liberal Greens’ share of the vote went to the Social Democrats and the Greens, but also to the Radical-Liberals and the Centre Party. The Liberal Greens also lost ground among young people. Votes from 18- to 24-year-olds increasingly went to the Social Democrats, which along with the People’s Party were the most popular parties among the youngest voters. 

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Social Democrats seen as a Green alternative 

Among voters for whom environmental and energy issues were the top priority, the Social Democrats enjoyed the same favour as the Greens. Compared to 2019, the Social Democratic Party was more successful in establishing itself as an alternative to the Greens among those with an affinity for the environment, the authors of the study wrote.  

The Social Democrats also benefited from the fact that the issues of loss of purchasing power and rising health insurance premiums became more important during the election campaign.  

The Radical-Liberal Party was unable to halt its downward slide in the autumn, put under pressure by the People’s Party, to whom it lost “considerable voter share” in the final weeks of the election campaign, the authors of the study found. One in five people who wanted to vote for the Radical-Liberals in July 2023 ended up voting for the People’s Party.  

Also, 82% of those who voted for the former Christian Democratic and Conservative Democratic parties voted for their successor, the Centre Party. According to the study, the Centre Party, which appeals to a broader group than the Christian Democratic Party, put pressure on the Radical-Liberals, but also attracted swing voters from the left. 

Almost CHF5,500 per candidate  

The authors of the study also compared the positions between candidates and their voters. This showed that polarisation among the candidates was stronger than among the voters, both for the People’s Party and the Greens as well as for the Social Democrats and Radical-Liberals.  

The average self-declared election budget per candidate was just under CHF5,500 ($6,177). Men had around CHF6,000, but women only around CHF4,300. On average, candidates from the People’s Party and Radical-Liberals had around three times as much money at their disposal as candidates from ecological parties.  

Around 5,000 eligible voters were surveyed for the study after the elections and between 5,500 and 8,000 people were interviewed three times, before and after election day on October 22, 2023. In addition, information was provided by around 2,500 candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

Adapted from German by DeepL/kp 

This news story has been written and carefully fact-checked by an external editorial team. At SWI we select the most relevant news for an international audience and use automatic translation tools such as DeepL to translate it into English. Providing you with automatically translated news gives us the time to write more in-depth articles.

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