Stem-cell vote hangs in the balance

Stem-cell research has been limited until now in Switzerland Keystone

Support for embryonic stem-cell research in Switzerland is declining ahead of a nationwide vote, according to the latest opinion polls.

This content was published on November 17, 2004 - 18:13

Only a slight majority now say they are in favour of the controversial research, which is opposed by right-to-life groups and some sections of the Left.

The survey, the second and last ahead of the vote on November 28, was conducted by the GfS Bern polling and research institute, on behalf of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.

If the Swiss went to the polls today, just 52 per cent would vote to allow stem-cell research, which could lead to breakthroughs against incurable diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Compared with an earlier survey, the number of potential “yes” voters has dropped by eight per cent. The percentage of those opposed has risen to 30 per cent, up five points.

And more people are undecided than three weeks ago, with the figure up three points to 18 per cent.


“This shows that the campaign against stem-cell research has made voters less sure of their choices,” said Claude Longchamp of GfS.

“Specifically, the issue surrounding the use of surplus human embryos from in vitro fertilisation has fuelled controversy.”

This uncertainty is reflected in the number of undecided voters, according to Longchamp. “If opposition continues to grow, it will most certainly be a tight vote,” he added, “even if it will probably be a ‘yes’ at the ballot box.”

Opponents of stem-cell research have made gains both on the Left and the Right. Among the different language groups more French speakers said they were in favour, while German- and Italian speakers have lost some of their initial enthusiasm.

Voters still cite medical progress as the main reason for favouring stem-cell research. The use of surplus embryos is considered the main reason for voting “no”.


Many voters are still undecided about planned changes to the sharing of responsibilities between federal and cantonal authorities, and the terms under which poorer cantons are subsidised by the richer ones.

The GfS analysts say that the high number of undecided voters (32 per cent) is due to the number of groups opposed to reform.

Disabled persons’ groups, with some support from the Left, are campaigning against the reform because they fear the transfer of responsibilities from the federal authorities to the cantons could lead to a worse provision for the disabled in some cases.

Rich cantons are also opposed to handing more funds to the poorer ones.

“The strongest factor for voters in favour of the reform is the fact that it will help mountain cantons with fewer resources,” said Longchamp. “But the implications of a ‘yes’ vote for the disabled seem to have troubled many voters.”

The reform should be approved, according to the poll, with 53 per cent of those surveyed in favour.


Overall interest in the November 28 vote has picked up. While three weeks ago just over a third of those surveyed said they would cast their ballot, this time 43 per cent said they would vote.

“It shows the debate has become more passionate, and in a way, more interesting,” added Longchamp.

Opponents have also managed to mobilise their supporters.

“Three weeks ago, the campaign was fairly quiet, with no real opposition,” said Longchamp. “Today, we have a more ethical or moral debate, especially as concerns stem-cell research.”


Key facts

Stem-cell vote survey:
52 per cent ot voter in favour (minus eight per cent).
30 per cent against (plus five per cent).
18 per cent undecided (plus three per cent).
1,200 people were surveyed all over the country.

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