Why Swiss expats vote differently when they go abroad

More than 60% of registered expatriate Swiss live in European countries, notably in neighbouring France, Germany and Italy. Keystone/Martin Ruetschi

Ties between Switzerland and the European Union are the main concern of nearly half of expat Swiss citizens, while these same bilateral relations are only considered a priority for one in four voters at home.

This content was published on October 9, 2018

The findings by the Sotomo research institute show major differences in political preferences between the Swiss Abroad community and respondents resident in Switzerland, but they confirm previous research on the issue.

The findings of the online poll, published last week, were the first ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections.

A list of the six main concerns of expat Swiss almost reverses the order of the overall barometer. For details see two graphics below.

External Content

While 47% of expats in the survey consider Swiss relations with the EU a priority, only 28% of the overall respondents share this view. The percentage is slightly higher in the French-speaking part (30%), but below average in the main German- and Italian-speaking regions.

Top of the list overall, as well as in the different language regions, are concerns over the rising costs of health insurance premiums with 42%. This issue won just 26% of the Swiss abroad who took part in the poll.

Direct impact

There are good reasons for the discrepancy, as Sotomo’s Michael Hermann explains.

“Most expatriate Swiss live in EU member countries and relations with the 28-nation bloc have a direct impact on their lives,” he says. As for the relatively low priority given to health insurance, Hermann points out that many Swiss Abroad are probably not covered by the Swiss insurance scheme.

The old age pension system is a different kettle of fish, taking into account that the Swiss expat community consists of a fair number of pensioners living in southern European countries or in Asia and who still have close ties with their country of origin.

In fact, of the 752,000 Swiss citizens living around the globeExternal link at the end of last year, 62% were based in a European country and about 21% were above the age of 65.

Just over 172,000 of the Swiss Abroad (23%) have registered to take part in votes and elections.

Free movement of people

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad (OSA) agrees that the findings of the Election Barometer are in line with previous studies.

OSA director Sarah Mastantuoni says six out of ten expatriate Swiss live in EU member states and bilateral relations between Switzerland and the EU are a crucial issue for them.

“The fact might not be obvious for all, but the free movement of people principles applies not only to EU citizens coming to work in Switzerland, but also for Swiss citizens hoping to live in a EU-member state.”

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Global issue

Climate change and the problem of CO2 emissions is the second most important concern at the moment for expatriate Swiss with 35%, while an average 30% of resident Swiss respondents – in the French-speaking part even 38% – put it high on the list.

“It’s a topic that knows no borders,” says Hermann.

Besides it gives an indication about the typical political profile of the Swiss Abroad community.

The leftwing parties – the Greens and the Social Democrats – do better among the expatriate Swiss than among domestic citizens with 13% and 24% respectively, while Switzerland’s biggest political group, the People’s Party, came second with 21% compared with the 27% among the resident Swiss.

The gap is within the margin of error (+/-1.5%) for all the other political parties.

“The typical expatriate Swiss is more open-minded and doesn’t have the same conservative political profile,” Hermann says.

To a certain extent the finding appears to mirror the make-up of the politically interested Swiss expatriate community: a younger and mobile generation which might have left the country on a temporary basis.

The latest edition of the Election Barometer is based on just over 12,000 online responses, including 546 from Swiss Abroad citizens, according to Somoto. Click here to find out more about the main results of the study.


Hermann says the latest findings of the Swiss Abroad in the survey, – commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC),’s parent company, – is in line with previous research and hardly a big surprise.

A comparison of data about more than 60 nationwide votes between 2011 to 2017 showed that expatriate Swiss were generally more left-leaning, more liberal and progressive than the resident Swiss who took part in the same ballots.

The surveyExternal link was based on estimates, as only votes of expatriate Swiss were recorded separately in 12 out of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, political scientist and study author Thomas Milic of the Centre for Democracy StudiesExternal link in Aarau pointed out.

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