They rejected that? Notable vote failures over the years


With polls predicting that an initiative to boost pensions by 10% is heading for defeat on September 25, looks at other occasions when voters rejected an idea that, at first glance, would appear to benefit them.

This content was published on September 16, 2016 minutes

Swiss voters have had the final say on national issues more than 600 times since the Swiss constitution was written in 1848 – on average three to four times a year.

These national votes are a mixture of people’s initiatives and referendums – and neither has a particularly high success rate. Only about 10% of initiatives, which allow citizens to propose changes to the constitution by collecting at least 100,000 valid signatures within 18 months, have been accepted since 1893.

Initiatives put forward by the political left generally fare particularly badly, for example the recent initiative to give everyone an unconditional basic income appealed to less than a quarter of the electorate.

Below are a dozen examples of voters snubbing an idea that one might think would generate little resistance – the list could certainly have been longer. In practice, of course, there are at least two sides to every argument, with many voters eventually thinking “that’s all very nice, but who’s going to pay for it?”.

One notable example of what most people would consider arguing – if not voting – against their own interests is the women who didn’t support female suffrage, thinking politics was best left to men. On February 7, 1971, two-thirds of Swiss men eventually voted in favour of allowing women to have their say at a nationwide level.

June 3, 1894 – “Guarantee of the right to work” No 80.2%

May 24, 1925 – “Disability, old age, widows and orphans insurance.” No 58% (extensions and updates to this law have been rejected several times since)

April 15, 1951 – “Guarantee of purchasing power and full employment” No 87.6%

December 5, 1976 – “Reduction of the working week to 40 hours” No 78%

February 26, 1978 – “Lowering retirement age” No 79.4%

March 10, 1985 – “Extending paid holidays” No 65.2%

June 12, 1988 – “Lowering retirement age to 62 for men and 60 for women” No 64.9%

December 4, 1988 – “Reduction of working hours” No 65.7%

March 4, 2001 – “For lower-priced medication” No 69.9%

March 11, 2012 – “Six weeks’ holiday for all” No 66.5% (Note, however, that on September 26, 1993, 83.8% of voters gave the thumbs up to a “Work-free national day on August 1”)

September 23, 2012 – “Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke” No 66%

June 5, 2016 – “Unconditional basic income” No 76.9% 

[POSTSCRIPT: The pensions initiative was indeed rejected]

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