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Poll finds early support for pension reform and eco-friendly farming

Yes or No: Swiss voters have the final say on several issues as part of the system of direct democracy. (The picture shows a display ballot box) Keystone/Ennio Leanza

Despite leading in latest polls, a proposed ban on factory farming in Switzerland has limited chances of success at the ballot box next month, pollsters say. A reform of the old age pension scheme enjoys more solid backing.

The slim margin between supporters and opponents of a factory farming ban in Switzerland seems to indicate a close race ahead of the September 25 vote.

However, political scientist Lukas Golder says supporters might have a hard time during the next few weeks of campaigning.

“It could still go either way,” says Golder, “but several indicators show that citizens don’t see an urgent need to ban intensive livestock farming methods.”

A majority of women taking part in the poll, as well as citizens in urban regions, came out in favour of the ban, according to Golder, but grassroots supporters of parties from the right to the centre said they would reject the initiative.

Compared with two votes on agricultural issues last year, the campaigns are likely to be less emotional and voter turnout to be distinctly lower.

The poll was carried out by the leading GfS Bern research institute on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation ten days ago – about nine weeks ahead of the vote on September 25.

The plans by animal rights groups for a ban on factory farming might attract a certain public attention worldwide but the vote on a controversial pension reform is arguably the key issue for domestic politics.

Parliament last year approved a proposal to raise the retirement age for women to 65 in line with that of men, along with a hike in value-added tax to shore up the finances of the state old age pension scheme.

Left-wing parties, who had also successfully challenged a previous pension reform, then collected enough signatures to force a referendum.

Solid support

But pollsters say the political left might be fighting an uphill battle as the first survey found relatively solid support for the reform which has the backing of both parliament and government.

Political scientist Martina Mousson of the GfS Bern institute says the 30% lead for supporters is not really surprising. “It seems that citizens generally acknowledge the need to act to ensure the financial basis of the pension scheme,” she says.

She says people are split according to party lines and that opposition to the reform is more widespread – although falling short of a majority – among female survey participants.

But all is not clear, Mousson says, notably since citizens in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of the country are traditionally more critical of reforms of the social security system and perceived discriminations against women than citizens in the main German-speaking region.

Technically, there are two separate issues linked to the pension reform to be decided by voters: raising the retirement age, and an increase in value-added tax. Levels of support for both are so far looking similar.

“Concerns about women’s issue are key in the debate,” says Mousson. “The left still has some way to go to win enough support.”

Tax issue

A reform of withholding tax – a fourth issue to be decided at the ballot box – has not yet raised much public interest.

“People haven’t made up their minds at this stage,” says Mousson.

Both Golder, co-director of GfS Bern, as well as Mousson agree the outcome is open. It might become easier to give a clearer picture when the second poll is presented in mid-September.

Polling details

Pollsters interviewed 12,015 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country and among the expatriate Swiss community for the first of two nationwide surveys.

The survey is based on online responses as well as telephone interviews, both with fixed line and mobile phone users, and was carried out from July 29 – August 15.

The margin of error is 2.8%.

The poll was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) – SWI’s parent company – and carried out by the GfS Bern research institute.

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SWI – the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Since 1999, has fulfilled the federal government’s mandate to distribute information about Switzerland internationally, supplementing the online offerings of the radio and television stations of the SBC. Today, the international service is directed above all at an international audience interested in Switzerland, as well as at Swiss citizens living abroad.
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