User guide for direct democracy undergoes revamp

The official booklet for Swiss citizens seeking information on forthcoming nationwide votes has been given a make-over, including more space for political committees presenting their cases.

This content was published on January 16, 2018 - 14:00
Urs Geiser and Sonia Fenazzi (text) and Marie Gfeller (video),

Critics challenging a government policy have regularly complained that their points of view are not sufficiently represented in the booklets, while the government in the past argued that political opponents have other means at the disposal to draw public attention.

Four decades after the booklet was first printed and distributed for free to every resident Swiss citizen, the brochure will receive a new design, with the intention of being easier to read.

“The concept takes into account changed reading habits,” said the Federal Chancellery following a decision by the government last month.

The structure of the text has been given a revamp, notably by adding a section giving all the essential information at a glance, the chancellery explains.

The double page includes a brief presentation of the issue(s) at stake, possible arguments for and against as well as the result of votes in the parliamentary chambers on the issue.

“With the new design, the initiative and referendum committees are given equal space to present their arguments. This will be a maximum one and a half pages as a rule,” the chancellery said.

The latest revamp costs about CHF80,000 ($82,000). The updated booklet will be sent to citizens for the first time in late summer, to inform them of the issues to be voted on in September. The votes issues still have to be decided by the government.

Highly read

The red booklet, including the position of the government and parliament, is said to be highly popular among citizens.

With a current 5.5 million copies, it holds the record print run for Switzerland. It’s sometimes misleadingly referred to as “bestseller” due to the number distributed free of charge. It’s also accessible onlineExternal link. It’s available in Switzerland’s four official languages German, French, Italian and Romansh.

A study, the VOTO research projectExternal link, has shown that a majority of Swiss voters read the official explanations before making up their minds about the issues at stake. The study was commissioned by the Federal Chancellery.

The most recent survey shows that some 88% of voters consulted the booklet ahead of the popular votes last SeptemberExternal link about plans to reform of the old age pension scheme and a constitutional amendment on food security.

The official brochure was found to be the second most important source of information behind newspaper articles (92%) and television programmes (82%), the study found.

The booklet is even top of the list with 6.9 points out of ten when it comes to user frequency, according to the regular VOTO surveys. The top preferences for information sources has been largely unchanged over the years.

What about English?

“There are no plans for an English version of the booklet, because English is not an official Swiss language,” says Beat Furrer of the Federal Chancellery.

However, the authorities do publish a short English summary of the issues at stake online, as the example of the next votes in MarchExternal link shows and some practical adviceExternal link on votes, notably for Swiss citizens abroad.

Furrer adds the government has increased its efforts over the past few years to publish official ballot box information with videos in German, French, Italian and Romansh.

A version in sign language has been added since last September to help citizens with hearing impairments.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

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