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Voto analysis ‘Swiss law first’ initiative challenged many voters

Two senior members of the Swiss People's Party next to a Swiss flag

The People's Party president, Albert Rösti (left), checking incoming results from the November 25 vote. His party had the backing of its supporters but failed to appeal to other voters.   

(Keystone)

A study shows that many voters did not fully understand the relevance of a rightwing proposal putting the Swiss constitution above international law which came to a nationwide vote last November.

Researchers found that 43% of respondents admitted they had problems identifying the issue at stake, according to the latest Voto studyexternal link published earlier this week.

Supporters and opponents of the controversial initiative said they relied on the recommendations of their favourite political parties when deciding whether to approve or reject the proposal at the ballot box on November 25.

The initiative was roundly defeated at the ballot box with 66.2% of the vote, despite a high turnout of People’s Party supporters.

“The initiative did not fail because People’s Party grassroots stayed away,” the authors of the Voto said.

The findings seem to confirm the difficulties of many Swiss citizens understanding a key element of the initiative. A study by the Sotomo research institute in September last year showed that nearly one in two Swiss could not describe the term ‘international law’.

Reasons

The latest Voto survey found supporters agreeing that Switzerland’s sovereignty is at stake if the Swiss constitution can be overruled by international agreements.

Opponents for their part were convinced that approval of the initiative would undermine Switzerland’s credibility in international negotiations.

However, two other reasons were not mentioned prominently by voters, according to the study.

Opponents rarely referred to an alleged threat to human rights in the opinion poll and supporters seldom stated that the initiative would help protect Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.

In the wake of the November 25 ballot, the Swiss press highlighted voters’ faith in international institutions as a key reason for the rejection of the initiative.

The Voto survey, financed by the Federal Chancellery, also analysed the results of the vote on the social welfare detectives and the ‘cow horn initiative’.

The poll was conducted by the Centre for Democracy Studies Aarau (ZDA), the Fors research institute and the polling institute Link. It was carried out from November 27 to December 12, with 1,513 voters across Switzerland.

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