By Urs Geiser
Most Swiss citizens support reform of the old age pension system and the necessary increase in Value Added Tax (VAT), according to an opinion poll. But there is strong opposition against the plans, which will come to a nationwide vote next month.
Supporters of both ideas are 11% and 12% ahead respectively in a survey commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation – swissinfo.ch’s parent company – and published on Friday.
“The result on September 24 could be close and the debates promise to be heated,” says Lukas Golder of the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute, which carried out the survey at the beginning of August.
He believes that the media will play an important part in the coming days and weeks, helping citizens form an opinion on a complex issue.
The sweeping reform, narrowly approved by parliament earlier this year, foresees raising the retirement age for women from 64 to 65 in line with men, a reduction in the so-called minimum conversion rate for assets accumulated in compulsory vocational pension plans to 6%, and a slight increase in VAT. To compensate, all new pensioners will receive an additional CHF70 per ($72) month.
Political and polarised
GfS Bern institute co-director Golder says public controversy surrounding the issue could encourage younger citizens to take part in the vote on September 24 to boost turnout up to 60%.
The pollsters found that the campaign for the reform of the social security system – a major issue in Switzerland for years – is primarily driven by party allegiances and divides the political centre down the middle.
Differences between respondents in rural and urban areas are more notable than those between the three main Swiss language regions or social classes.
However, female voters could make the difference, according to political scientist Golder.
The survey was commissioned by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), swissinfo’s parent company, and carried out by the leading GfS Bern research and polling institute.
“We found that more women than men said they would vote against the reform. But now there is even a majority of women in favour,” he says.
Finally, Interior Minister Alain Berset could have an impact on the opinion-shaping process as he personifies the principle of Swiss consensus politics.
Berset is a member of the government, the French-speaking minority, and the leftwing Social Democratic Party, presenting a compromise project.
So far, leftwing and centrist supporters have held the upper-hand in the campaign, according to Golder. They have argued that it is time for a reform to prevent the collapse of the Swiss social security system and that the proposed solution is a reasonable compromise.
The opposition on the political right, for its part, argues that the planned proposal is not fair to the younger generation, which has to bear the brunt, paying higher contributions but getting no guarantee that the pension system will survive in the long run.
“The result may be very close, depending on a further polarisation of the campaign which in turn could lead to a high voter turnout,” says Golder.
The second issue on the ballot sheet on September 24 looks set to win a majority, according to pollsters. Voters will decide on an integral plan to ensure food security.
The proposal by parliament has only a small number of opponents but they have not organised a campaign. Golder says there is no indication that this will change.
A broad majority in parliament approved the constitutional change, which prompted the country’s main farmers’ association to withdraw its initiative calling for food security.