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June 9 votes: Swiss government ‘clearly understood’ public mood

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The vote results are a testament to the organised Swiss politics of parliament and the federal government. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Swiss voters followed the recommendations of the federal government and parliament on all four of Sunday’s vote proposals. “The fear of fewer benefits has worked,” says political scientist Urs Bieri from gfs.bern research institute in an interview.

SWI: The pension vote in March succeeded in expanding social benefits. The health initiatives didn’t have the same success. Why not?

Urs Bieri (U.B.): In recent years Switzerland has held an intense debate about the costs and benefits of health and social insurance. Normally, the population focuses on the cost debate. In the case of adding a 13th monthly pension payment, the discussion revolved around benefits, with costs playing only a marginal role. Now the population has reacted to the foreseeable additional costs and once again following the normal discussion pattern for social policy proposals.

SWI: Did the tight federal finances play a role in the results on Sunday?

U.B.: Yes, they have made the population more aware of costs, and the discussions in parliament on how to continue spending money. So the new concerns about federal finances certainly did have an influence. This also contributed to the no vote on these initiatives.

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SWI: The turnout was relatively low. What effect did that have?

U.B.: An average turnout always means that the result is more favourable to the authorities, specifically the interests of parliament and the government. This can be seen in all four proposals. We have a clear victory for the government and parliament.

SWI: A supplementary pension activated pensioners. Are those on lower incomes, who would have benefited the most from the healthcare initiatives, more difficult to mobilise?

U.B.: The healthcare topic was less widely discussed. There was no protest vote. There was no above-average mobilisation. But the Social Democratic Party was at least able to mobilise beyond its core voters, which is a respectable achievement. However, it did not reach the middle-class camp.

SWI: There is a pronounced linguistic divide in the country. What are the reasons for this?

U.B.: In Switzerland we have a divide between left and right, and this also runs strongly along the language divide. We have French-speaking Switzerland, which votes more to the left on almost all issues than German-speaking Switzerland. This is also evident in Sunday’s vote.

The urban-rural divide should also not be forgotten. City dwellers are traditionally more left-wing than rural regions. This is very clear in the vote on June 9. The Social Democrats didn’t manage to cross these divides to such an extent that its proposal would have gained majority support.

SWI: In pre-election polls there was also a divide between the domestic voters and the Swiss diaspora. For similar reasons?

U.B.: That is my assumption. On average, the Swiss Abroad actually tend to vote more to the left than the Swiss at home. However, based on the level of yes votes, it cannot be assumed that the divide is so black and white. There is no clear yes from the Swiss Abroad compared to a clear no in Switzerland. There is a difference, but it is not decisive.

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SWI: Voters rejected the Premium Relief Initiative despite the fact that it consistently tops the list of worries for Swiss people. Why is there such a discrepancy?

U.B.: Healthcare costs are indeed a huge issue for the population, but not in everyday life. The burden is perceived as high, but still bearable. The type and quality of service is obviously considered to be much more important. The Swiss population highly values healthcare services and doesn’t want to reduce them under any circumstances. Proposals that entail a reduction in services in any form have an extremely difficult time, as has now happened with the Cost Brake initiative. The fear of cuts to their own benefits is usually the reason for rejection.

SWI: Our own personal circumstances were also a factor in this vote?

U.B.: The impact of the issues on an individual always has two dimensions: on the one hand, costs and cost savings, and on the other, the benefits you receive and the question of whether these will be cut. The fear of the latter outweighs the former.       

SWI: The Electricity Law crossed the finishing line easily. It’s a victory for Environment Minister Albert Rösti, who is part of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, but a defeat for his party. Did the Swiss People’s Party miscalculate?

U.B.: The People’s Party’s no vote clearly didn’t ignite people from its own party. Not all People Party members and sympathisers were against the law, but a large majority were. However, that was it, the rejection didn’t go any further. In addition, opposition to the law from environmental groups also didn’t spread among left-green camps.               

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SWI: The discussion about the Electricity Law in the run-up to the vote didn’t become very heated. Why?

U.B.: As a government bill, it was already the result of a compromise. The population clearly understood and accepted the Electricity Law as a compromise. The fact that Switzerland wants to change its climate policy, that this is necessary and that it is right for Switzerland to produce its own electricity can’t be disputed. Criticism that securing supply could deface Alpine landscapes wasn’t enough to change voters’ minds.               

SWI: All the proposals achieved very clear results. In contrast to some other votes, people in Switzerland once again know exactly what they want. Is this an advantage?

U.B.: It is certainly a testament to the organised Swiss politics of parliament and the federal government. For once, they have clearly understood and anticipated the mood of the population. In return, the government in Bern has now been successful at the ballot box.

Adapted from German by DeepL/jdp.

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