What are the burning issues in Swiss votes?

Since 1848, the Swiss have had their say on over 600 nationwide ballots. Which have been the most popular issues in recent times?

This content was published on September 22, 2017 minutes

The Swiss go to polls about four times a year in nationwide votes. Using data compiled by the Centre for Research on Direct DemocracyExternal link, which tagged all national votes with keywords, has analysed the most popular voting themes since Switzerland's first constitution in 1848. Each ballot was assigned between one to three themes.

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The graphic below offers a more complete picture of vote outcomes by topic over time.

It shows three types of votes, all of which are part of Swiss-style direct democracy: mandatory referendums, optional referendums and people's initiatives. These different types of votes are explained at the end of this article. 

In general, people's initiatives are rejected more often than referendums. Swiss citizens turn down about 90% of all people's initiatives, while they accept over 70% of mandatory referendums.

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Although defining the main topic of a ballot can be viewed as slightly subjective, the data shows that there has been recent rise in people's initiatives on the environment, immigration and the status of women. We also know that since the 1970s, the number of national people's initiatives put to vote has increased.

Switzerland's direct democracy and its three types of ballots

  • Mandatory referendums (since 1848): In the case of a change, even small, to the constitution by parliament, the people must have their say. The same goes for membership of supranational communities or the adoption of laws that have been declared urgent.
  • Optional referendums: (since 1874): Swiss citizens can also contest all laws adopted or modified by parliament. For an 'optional referendum' vote to take place, at least 50,000 signatures from citizens must be filed.
  • People's initiatives: (since 1891): People’s initiatives allow citizens to propose changes to the constitution by introducing new provisions, or by amending or repealing existing provisions. For an initiative to be submitted for a verdict at the polls, its proponents must gather at least 100,000 signatures from citizens eligible to vote.
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