Election candidates with ‘foreign’ names face discrimination, says study

Mustafa Atici (Right), a Social Democrat MP for Basel City of Kurdish origin, is one of only a tiny handful of Swiss federal parliamentarians with "foreign" sounding names. Most have typically Swiss names like his colleague Matthias Aebischer (Left). Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle

People with foreign-sounding names are less likely to be elected in Switzerland, according to a study by the universities of Lucerne and Geneva.

This content was published on July 28, 2021 - 16:39

The authors of the study analysed 600,000 ballots from the 2015 federal parliament elections. These contain detailed information on the number of times voters crossed a candidate off a party list or added them.

Voters in Switzerland receive ballot sheets on which candidate names are grouped in lists according to their party; the voter can then either select a list as a whole, or can chop and change across lists by adding or removing candidate names.

Based on an online lexicon listing all surnames in the municipalities, the survey’s authors differentiated between candidates with a “Swiss” name and those with names not typically Swiss (appearing in the lexicon after 1940 and which might give the impression of a migration background).

They found that voters more often removed candidates who did not have a typically Swiss name from party lists, a tendency more prevalent among right-wing voters. And when adding candidates to their chosen lists they more often added “Swiss” names.

Political parties can nevertheless take steps to counter this double discrimination, according to the report, including giving candidates with foreign-sounding names a more prominent place on their list.

As a University of Lucerne press releaseExternal link notes, people with migration backgrounds now make up a sizeable proportion of the Swiss population and many have acquired political rights, but they are much under-represented in parliament, especially at federal level. 

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