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Vote on CO2 law could be close, pollsters say

Opponents of the CO2 law argue that petrol prices would rise discriminating against people living in rural areas.. © Keystone/Christian Beutler

Opponents of a law aimed at reducing Switzerland’s carbon footprint have narrowed the gap with supporters ahead of a nationwide vote on June 13.

This content was published on June 2, 2021 - 06:00

A final opinion poll also suggests that two environmental proposals – known as the ‘drinking water’ initiative and the ‘anti-pesticide’ initiative – are losing ground. But two other issues on the ballot sheet, a legal amendment of preventive detention rules as well as the Covid law look set to pass.

The survey, published on Wednesday, was carried out on behalf of SWI swissinfo.ch’s parent company, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC).

Support for the revised CO2 law has dropped by six percentage points to 54%, while opponents won another 8%, compared with a previous poll a month ago.

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The GfS.Bern polling instituteExternal link, which carried out the survey, found that the CO2 law still has a majority, but most indicators show that it is coming under pressure, especially from citizens with no clear party-political ties, middle- and lower-income groups and increasingly from female voters.

“It seems that the cost argument brought forward by opponents is convincing,” says GfS Bern political scientist Martina Mousson. “The government finds it increasingly difficult to present the law as a well-balanced compromise.”

Mousson says it is not impossible that support for the law – cutting by half the country’s CO2 emissions by 2030 in line with the Paris Climate Agreement – will wane further.

Anti-pesticide

Opponents, both from the political right and a minority of the political left, might also benefit from an expected decline in support for two separate initiatives trying to outlaw or drastically reduce the use of pesticides by Swiss farmers.

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The ‘drinking water’ initiative, which aims to ban subsidies for farmers who use pesticides, is now trailing by seven percentage points. This represents an almost irreversible setback for the campaigners who were 14% ahead in a poll last month.

The results for the so-called anti-pesticide initiative, which calls for an outright ban on synthetic weedkillers and insecticides, are slightly less devastating but still clear. The poll found an 8% fall in support for the initiative, compared with an 9% increase in opposition.

This is partly due to a well-orchestrated campaign by the main farmers’ organisation, according to pollsters.

“It has been running a very successful campaign in rural areas appealing to emotions,” says Lukas Golder, co-director of the GfS Bern institute.

This has prompted many so-called middle-class voters – the majority of the Swiss population – to take sides with farmers. They fear higher consumer prices and seem to support the claims that some farmers’ long-term survival is at risk if either of the two initiatives are accepted.

Golder says only respondents in urban areas and people with a higher education background came out in favour of the initiatives.

He notes that the expected rejection of the two agricultural initiatives as well as the growing opposition against the CO2 law seem to go against current environmental trend and related policies.

Anti-terrorism and anti-government

Meanwhile, two other issues to be decided on June 13 seem to be well accepted by the Swiss public.

A controversial tightening of police measures to combat terrorism, including preventive detention, has the support of over 60% of respondents in the poll.

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This is slightly down compared with a poll a month ago, but it is highly unlikely to fail at the ballot box, according to pollsters.

Opponents meanwhile increased their share by eight percentage points in the poll.

The referendum is supported by left-wing parties and human rights groups. The law has also been criticised by some legal experts.

No surprises are expected in a vote on government measures to grant financial support to companies and individuals hit hard by restrictions aimed at curbing the pandemic.

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The figures are similar to those polled a month ago. Opponents of the law include mainly grassroots members of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and critics of the government’s alleged power-grabbing policy during the pandemic and official health safety measures.

Expat Swiss taking part in the online poll on the five issues seem to be slightly more left-leaning, as previous polls have shown. But they do not show fundamentally different voting intentions to domestic voters, the gfs.bern institute found.

A majority of citizens living overseas still support both agricultural initiatives, amid a clear trend towards No votes. Support for the CO2 law is also slightly higher compared with voters in Switzerland.

Wide-ranging but not overwhelming

It is the second set of nationwide votes this year, following a ballot on a proposed burka ban in March.

Voters face five complex issues on the June 13 ballot sheet. But this is not unreasonable for the Swiss, says Golder, who points to the long tradition of public votes under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy.

“Citizens can cope with it. Many of them have their own method of finding the necessary information to form an opinion,” he says.

Some issues may get more attention than others, says Golder. He rejects criticism of overburdening ordinary citizens in June; he highlights a 2003 vote when a record nine issues were on the ballot sheet.

“People would stay away from the polling booths if they felt it was too much for them. But they wouldn’t necessarily take unreasonable decisions if they can decide on multiple issues,” he says.

Turnout for the June 13 vote is expected to be slightly above average at 52%, according to the polling institute.

Polling details

Pollsters interviewed 17,202 Swiss citizens from all language regions across the country and among the expatriate Swiss community for the second of two nationwide surveys.

The survey is based on online responses as well as telephone interviews, both with fixed line and mobile phone users, and was carried out from May 18-27.

The margin of error is 2.8%.

The poll was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo.ch’s parent company, and carried out by the GfS Bern research institute.

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