How will Switzerland’s autumn referendums turn out?

Polling ahead of Switzerland’s five nationwide referendums on September 27th shows that some proposals are strongly favoured, while others are neck and neck.

How will Switzerland's autumn referendums turn out?

There’s just one week until one of Switzerland’s most consequential set of referendums in recent years. 

A new set of polls shows the likelihood of each proposal passing. 

The polls, carried out by Switzerland’s Tamedia group, shows that the hunting vote in particular is likely to go down to the wire. 

READ: What's at stake in Switzerland's five referendums this month? 

Hunting law

One question to be voted on in the referendum relates to hunting rights. The initiative has been launched by animal protection organisations who argue that the recent law changes place endangered species at a greater risk and should therefore be repealed.

The proposal has a caused controversy in Switzerland, particularly in the southern canton of Ticino where a cartoon flyer distributed to school children saw rising tensions. 

‘Dangerous misinformation': Why this school flyer is causing a furore in Switzerland 

According to the polls, 49 percent are in favour of the law change and 48 percent are opposed. The remaining three percent are undecided. 

This is the closest of the polls of the five questions to be asked on Sunday. 

Child tax deduction

Another close vote relates to the proposal for a tax deduction for children. 

An initiative of the Social Democrats (SP), this vote is a move to counter the child tax deductions which have been recently introduced by the Swiss Government.

A total of 46 percent support the SP’s plan, while 51 percent are against it. 

Those in favour argue that the tax changes are a gift to the wealthiest Swiss, while those opposed say the deductions will provide financial relief to families. 

Paternity leave

While mothers have had paid maternity leave for 15 years under Swiss law, Swiss fathers are currently only entitled to one day off upon the birth of their child. 

This is significantly less than most of Switzerland's European neighbours. The plan is to extend this to two weeks for all biological fathers federally across the country.

Poll numbers show more clarity on this question than the others. 

More than two thirds – 70 percent – are in favour. Only 28 percent of those surveyed oppose the move. 

The support is higher among younger people, with 84 percent of people under the age of 35 in favour. 

As reported in 20 Minutes, those in favour of the referendum argue that not only will it bring about greater equality in Swiss law, but it reflects a desire of fathers to take greater care of children in modern Switzerland. 

Those against argue it is not the state’s role to do so and that private companies fill this gap well in Switzerland. 

Fighter jets

It might sound odd to people from around the world – particularly Americans – but the Swiss even get a direct say in the purchase of military equipment. The Swiss government wants to spend CHF6 billion ($USS6 billion) on new fighter jets.

A similar referendum failed in 2014, however this time around it looks set to gain support. 

Just under two thirds – 65 percent – said they were in favour, compared to 34 percent who are opposed. 

READ: Why is Switzerland holding a referendum on purchasing fighter jets? 

There is however a strong difference in gender attitudes towards new fighter jets. 

71 percent of men are in favour, compared to 58 percent of women. 

Migration limitation

The most controversial question is the right-wing Swiss People's Party initiative (SVP) on implementing a cap on EU migration. The ‘moderate immigration limitation initiative' will restrict EU freedom of movement in Switzerland.

Despite early indications that this was likely to pass, it appears that it will be defeated. The support for the plan has failed to go beyond the SVP’s base. 

Around two thirds (65 percent) reject the proposal, while 33 percent are in favour. 

Support for the vote is strongest in Ticino, where 45 percent of voters are in favour. 

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Swiss voters back Covid pass law

Swiss voters firmly backed the law behind the country's Covid pass in a referendum Sunday, following a tense campaign that saw unprecedented levels of hostility.

Policemen are seen behind fences closing the House of Swiss Parliament in Bern
Policemen are seen behind fences closing the House of Swiss Parliament in Bern, on November 28th, 2021 ahead of the nationwide vote on its Covid-19 law, after a campaign characterised by unprecedented levels of hostility in a country renowned for its culture of compromise. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The law provides the legal basis for the so-called Covid certificate to indicate that a person has been vaccinated or has recovered from the disease.

Opponents claimed the certificate, which has been required since September for access to restaurants and other indoor spaces and activities, is creating an “apartheid” system.

Final results showed 62 percent supported the law in a contest that saw voters surge to fill in their ballots.

The 65 percent turnout was the fourth-highest since women were granted the vote in 1971, in a country where the average referendum turnout is 46 percent.

A majority voted against the law in just two of the 26 Swiss cantons, with the highest support levels registered in Basel City and Zurich.

The referendum came as the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation, shook countries and markets around the world.

READ ALSO: EU health agency says Omicron variant poses ‘high to very high’ risk to Europe 

The vote also came at a time when the numbers of new Covid-19 cases in Switzerland were more than seven times higher than they were in mid-October.

The below chart from Our World in Data shows the pattern of case numbers since the pandemic began, as well as how cases in Switzerland compare with those in its neighbouring countries.

Pass used in restaurants
The Covid Act, which grants the federal government broad powers to manage the pandemic, was already passed by a previous referendum on June 13th.

On Sunday, the voters were called to weigh in on the version of the law revised by parliament on March 19th relating to the Covid certificate, which Switzerland started to issue on June 7th to people who have been fully vaccinated, recovered from coronavirus, or tested negative for the disease.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How long is Switzerland’s Covid certificate valid for?

As in much of Europe, Switzerland has seen growing anger over restrictions aimed at reining in the pandemic, and pressure to get vaccinated.

But in a country where referendums take place every few months in a climate of civility and measured debate, the soaring tensions around the vote came as a shock.

Under Switzerland’s direct democracy system, votes are typically held four times a year on a range of subjects. Citizens can propose new initiatives, or trigger referendums on government policy by gathering enough signatures, as happened on the Covid certificate law.

Police upped security around several politicians who have faced a flood of insults and even death threats, including Health Minister Alain Berset.

The right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) — the biggest in the wealthy Alpine nation — was the only party that opposed the Covid law and the latitude it gives the government to act.

“The eyes of the whole world are on Switzerland. We are the only ones in the world to have the right to speak out on the management of the crisis, on the future of our freedoms,” SVP lawmaker Jean-Luc Addor told public broadcaster RTS.

He said the response to the pandemic was dividing society by vaccination status.

“Here we are talking about 40 percent of the population who disagree with official policy… who no longer trust the authorities,” Addor said.

Cowbell protests

The campaign saw repeated protests, often led by the so-called “Freiheitstrychler”, or “Freedom ringers” — men dressed in white shirts embroidered with edelweiss flowers and with two large cowbells suspended from a yoke resting on their shoulders.

Some of the demonstrations led to violent clashes with police, who used rubber bullets and tear gas to rein in the crowds.

The police fenced off the seat of government and parliament in Bern on Sunday in anticipation of protests, though few people had gathered in the square in front by sunset.

Claude Longchamp, one of Switzerland’s top political scientists, said it was the first time that the Federal Palace had been sealed off on polling day.

Michelle Cailler, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Constitution group which opposed the law, said  that granting such powers to the government was “extremely dangerous for democracy”.

“What is very embarrassing is that this law violates a number of constitutional rights, and in particular Article 10 on personal freedom with this Covid certificate, which establishes a disguised mandatory vaccination,” she told AFP after the vote.

“So it’s extremely shocking for a country like Switzerland.”

As for violence surrounding the vote — which her group does not condone, she said: “The government should ask itself if it is not responsible for any possible excesses, by pushing people to the limit with coercive measures which have extremely serious collateral damage — much worse than this epidemic — and well, maybe that pushes people to have over-the-top reactions.”

In the Sunday newspapers, Swiss President Guy Parmelin urged more people to come forward to get vaccinated.

Some 67 percent of the Swiss population is fully immunised, with a further two percent having had the first of two doses.

A Link Institute survey of 1,300 people, for SonntagsBlick newspaper, found that 53 percent were in favour of mandatory vaccination.

READ ALSO: How long are people in Switzerland considered ‘fully vaccinated’ compared to other countries?