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Immigration remains 'top issue' of Swiss voters

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Anti-immigration poster. Photo: AFP
11:01 CEST+02:00
Immigration and integration of foreigners remain the biggest concern of Swiss voters, according to a survey conducted for the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation six months ahead of national elections.

The poll conducted last month found that 49 percent of voters rank immigration, integration and the issue of refugees seeking asylum in the country as the nation’s biggest problems.

The issue came in front of worries about bilateral relations with the European Union, ranked as a top concern by 24 percent of respondents, and the environment, seen as a major problem by 12 percent of voters.

By contrast, the strong Swiss franc, which has worried economic forecasters, was only considered a problem by three percent of respondents.

The survey findings reported by the state broadcaster on Tuesday night also showed that the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) remained the most popular among voters with 26.2 percent of support, up from 24.6 percent in October 2014, although down slightly from the 26.6 percent backing it received in the 2011 elections..

The SVP has called for restrictions on immigration and launched the successful initiative, approved by Swiss voters in February 2014, to cap the number of immigrants from the EU.

The survey showed the Socialist party with the second highest level of support at 19.6 percent (down from 20.1 percent in October 2014), while the centre-right Liberals gained backing at 16.3 percent, up from 15.8 percent.

The Christian Democrats received the support of 11.8 percent (up from 11.2 percent), while the Greens registered 7.5 percent support (up from 7.3 percent).

How to explain the ongoing concern with immigration?

“Switzerland is a small country with a percentage of non-Swiss living in the country that is very, very high — higher than in other countries,” Andreas Ladner, a professor at the University of Lausanne who specializes in law and public administration, told RTS.

Immigration every year brings an average of 80,000 immigrants into the country, he noted.

“There are practically no other countries in Europe where immigrants make up one percent of the population immigrating every year.”

The UDC is capitalizing on worries about the issue.

But Etienne Piquet, an academic who has written a book about immigration in Switzerland, told ATS that clear responses are needed to counteract “exaggerated fears” about immigrants.

Contrary to some perceptions, for example, the rate of Muslim immigration into the country is very low, Piguet said.

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Meanwhile, “the risk of unemployment linked to immigration is practically non-existent”, he said.

But Piguet said that does not stop some people from fearing for their jobs.

And some people may worry about the “transformation of their neighbourhood” with new cultures that arrive, he said.

The survey also points to apprehension about an influx of refugees from war torn Iraq and Syria, a worry common to other European countries.

The poll of 2,011 people living in all of Switzerland’s linguistic regions was taken between March 11th and 19th.  

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