Swiss political parties in election fever

Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis (third from left) meets representatives from other centre-right parties on August 1 in Ticino. Talks were held on an electoral list combination © Keystone / Davide Agosta

Personal attacks, controversial posters, public debates, meeting and greeting the public – the parties’ campaigns for the October 20 parliamentary elections have kicked off, and each has its own style.

This content was published on September 28, 2019
Marie Vuilleumier (Text), Helen James and Ester Unterfinger (Picture editors)

Swiss citizens will be deciding who will sit in the 246-member parliament, so winning over voters is crucial. Each political party has polished its communications strategy, trying to get its voice heard through flyers, events, letters and social media and giveaways.

Low points

But there have already been two controversies. The first was the rightwing Swiss People’s Party’s infamous apple poster, depicting a red apple with a Swiss flag being eaten by worms (meant to represent the other parties).

+ Can of worms? More on the People's Party poster

The second concerned the centre-right Christian Democratic Party’s internet campaign of targeting individual parliamentary candidates, with the aim of discrediting their political arguments and pointing readers to their own candidates. This caused an outcry, because this type of action is rareExternal link in Switzerland, as political parties traditionally tend to attack decisions and ideas, rather than people.

While the People’s Party stands by its campaign poster, the Christian Democrats have already stopped their online campaign.

Here's a look at the campaign posters, mascots and giveaways that the major parties are using to attract voters.

Liberal Green Party 

Campaign spending 2019:  CHF1.6 million

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Sitting pretty: Liberal Green Party candidates from canton Zurich Keystone / Walter Bieri
The Liberal Greens are a new party, only founded in 2007 on a national level but it managed to get straight into parliament. Share of the vote: 4.6% (House of Representatives) Keystone / Christian Beutler

Swiss People's Party

Campaign spending 2019: not published

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The friendly sun - People's Party logo, but the party also has a less sunny side Keystone / Urs Flueeler

The Swiss People's Party was founded in 1971 from other parties. Current voter share: 29.4%, making it the strongest party Keystone / Christian Beutler

Conservative Democratic Party

Campaign spending 2019:  CHF1 million

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Campaign kick-off for the Conservative Democratic Party in a restaurant in canton Graubünden. Party colour: yellow Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller
The Conservative Democratic Party is a break-away party of the Swiss People's Party. It was founded in 2008, and made it to the House of Representatives in 2011. Current voter share: 4.1% Keystone / Christian Beutler

Social Democratic Party

Campaign spending 2019: CHF6.4 million

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Tanja Walliser, political secretary of the canton Zurich Social Democrats, leads a communications workshop for female party candidates on June 1, in the Swiss parliament building © Keystone / Peter Klaunzer
The Social Democrats were founded in 1888 and were the political arm of the workers' movement until the 1960s. Current voter share: 18.8%, second largest party in the House of Representatives Keystone / Christian Beutler

Christian Democratic Party

Campaign spending 2019: CHF4.3 million

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The Geneva arm of the Christian Democrats sets out its election programme on August 23 Keystone / Martial Trezzini
The Christian Democrats were formed during the founding of modern Switzerland in 1848. The then Catholic Conservatives were an opposition party. Current voter share: 11.6% Keystone / Christian Beutler

Radical-Liberal Party

Campaign spending 2019: CHF7.5 million

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Radical-Liberal candidates on stage at an election event on August 31 in Aarau Keystone / Walter Bieri
The record-breaking party: no other party worldwide has held a government seat continuously and for such a long time as the Radical-Liberals (since 1848). Current voter share: 16.4% Keystone / Christian Beutler

Green Party

Campaign spending 2019:  CHF1.9 million

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Carrying the weight of the world's environmental issue on their shoulders: Green Party event in Rapperswil-Jona on August 31 Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller
The Greens emerged in the 1970s from anti-nuclear and motorway-building movements. Official founding was in 1983. Current voter share: 7.1%. Polls see them as gaining in the elections, with up to 10.5% of votes. Keystone / Christian Beutler

Lack of transparency

The main topics being discussed ahead of next month's election are climate change, women in politics and (lack of) transparency in party campaign funding. Switzerland is the only country among the 47 members of the Council of Europe which does not have a law governing political party financing, for which it is regularly criticised by the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO. 

Supporters of more transparency in Swiss politics have already handed in a people’s initiative, meaning that parties would have to publish the origin of all donations over CHF10,000 ($10,100). Voters will have the final say on the issue.

Funding however remains a taboo in this electoral campaign. Most of the parties have published their campaign budgets, but do not say from whom they have received the funds. According to Swiss public television RTSExternal link, more than CHF25 million has been spent in the present campaign, which is a 20% rise on spending over the last federal elections of 2015.

Unlike the other parties, the People’s Party has so far refused to publish its figures. It also won’t say how much its candidates have spent personally.

Dark ads

There is an important change for social media, a channel that is becoming increasingly important. Digital giant Facebook now requires all parties to store all their active ads in a central, publicly accessible archive.

This is meant to stop dark ads – adverts that are only visible to those who are targeted by them (and so invisible to others).

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