Poll finds basic income proposal doomed to fail

Free money for all? Citizens appear to distrust a people's initiative calling for an unconditional basic income Ex-press

A proposal to introduce an unconditional basic income in Switzerland appears to enjoy little public support. A poll published ahead of a nationwide vote on June 5 shows the campaign failing to convince voters and heading for a clear defeat.

This content was published on April 29, 2016 - 17:00

The survey, commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation –’s parent company – and published on Friday, found just 24% of respondents would vote for a basic income. This graphic shows the breakdown and poll projections for other vote issues that day.

“The overwhelming majority of opponents is likely to get even bigger as is the rule for people’s initiatives,” says political scientist Martina Mousson of the GfS Bern research and polling institute.

She says the utopian plan might not even win 30% of the vote – a figure within reach for proposals from the left that do not have support from other political groups.

The major weakness of the initiative is that voters remained unconvinced by the arguments of the campaigners, who claim a guaranteed basic income would not cost more than the current system and the proposal would boost volunteer work.

“Despite a most interesting campaign, the promoters don’t stand a chance with their ideas, even if it is the first nationwide vote on such an issue,” says Claude Longchamp, head of the GfS Bern institute.

With the exception of the Greens and a small minority of the leftwing Social Democrats, all other political parties have recommended voters reject the initiative.

“It’s a hard verdict. The backers have been making great efforts, but to no avail,” adds Mousson.

Their campaign has included a series of publicity stunts, including the distribution of banknotes, making national and international headlines ever since the promoters handed in enough signatures by citizens in 2013 to force a nationwide vote.

Protest potential

The poll, carried out ten days ago, also shows a parliamentary decision to amend asylum rules currently has the support of 59% of respondents, while 30% are against and a further 11% are still undecided.

Poll details

Pollsters interviewed 1,209 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country for the first of two nationwide surveys ahead of the June 5 vote.

Swiss expatriates are not be included in the poll.

The telephone interviews took place between April 18-23.

The margin of error is 2.9%.

The survey was commissioned by the SBC, swissinfo’s parent company, and carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.

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The reform foresees speeding up the asylum procedure by setting up special centres run by the national authorities rather than Switzerland’s 26 cantons.

The conservative right Swiss People’s Party is challenging the parliamentary decision, agreed last year, to a nationwide vote. It has argued asylum seekers would automatically benefit from legal advice and warned that the national government could expropriate owners of private property to set up national asylum centres.

Longchamp says supporters of the reform have been successful in putting across their reasons in the vote campaign but he warns of a possible emotional backlash.

“The potential for a protest vote is looming even though there are no signs yet,” Longchamp says.

He says it would take a powerful campaign appealing to the feelings of citizens to turn things round.

Prominent members of the People’s Party have been attacking Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga in parliament and in the media for months. The party leadership said it would not stage a costly campaign with advertisements and posters – the traditional political campaign tools in Switzerland.

Public service

The chances for a ballot box upset are currently highest for an initiative launched by consumer rights magazines to boost public services, notably Swiss Post, the federal railways and the telecom company, Swisscom.

The proposal, which includes restrictions for top manager salaries, currently has the support of 58% of respondents in the poll, more than 30 percentage points ahead of opponents.

“The wording of the initiative is a political masterpiece,” says political scientist Mousson. “It even has what I would call a ‘Robin Hood’-element, the salary cap.”

However, she says the margin between supporters and opponents is likely to narrow in the coming weeks.

“The problem with the promoters is that they are on their own, no political party is backing them,” she says. “We will see which side the grassroots – left and right, as well as those without any party-political ties - will take.”


The rightwing initiative aimed at providing additional tax income to road transport infrastructure currently sees opponents ahead but the outcome is uncertain.

A fifth issue to come to a nationwide vote on June 5 – legal provisions regulating the genetic screening of embryos – has not been polled. A vote last year on a constitutional article about the same issued passed with a majority of 62%.

Pollsters expect voter turnout in June to be average, at around 45%. The last nationwide votes in February this year saw a 63% of citizens taking part.

“Several of the issues have an emotional potential and could lead to a high turnout. But there are no signs this will be the case,” says GfS Bern political scientist Lukas Golder.

June 5 vote

There are five issues on ballot sheet.

A people’s initiative to introduce an unconditional basic income, a proposal by consumer rights groups to boost public services and a plan by political right to provide extra tax funds to road transport.

Two decisions by parliament are also at stake. A reform of the asylum laws and a law on the pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

It is the second set of nationwide votes this year.

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