Turnaround for the FDP, polarisation continues

23/May/2016

In the 2015 federal elections, the FDP consolidated its position as the leading economic party. The SVP made gains thanks to its solid ground-level support and the widespread concerns about migration. On the other hand, the GLP and BDP could rely only on a small number of core voters, and in 2015 the electorate didn’t identify them with specific issues or solutions. These are the findings of a study by the Selects election research project, which is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and conducted by FORS in Lausanne.

The SVP (Swiss People's Party) and liberal FDP (Free Democratic Party) were the big winners at the 2015 federal elections; the new centre parties, GLP (Green Liberal Party) and BDP (Conservative Democratic Party), were both lost. For a sixth time, the voting behaviour behind the result was analysed as part of the Selects election research project. The results show: in 2015, the SVP was once again more successful in mobilising its potential voters than all the other parties. Almost everyone who voted for the SVP in 2011 voted for them again in 2015, along with many of those who didn't vote in 2011. The party benefited from the fact that the electorate regarded the SVP's core policy themes of migration, asylum and refugees as by far the most important issues in the last two months of the election campaign.

FDP regarded as highly capable

The FDP made gains in 2015. It not only managed to win votes easily, but, more importantly, it also managed to turn itself into a party that most voters could one day see themselves voting for. As such, the FDP has massively expanded its potential electoral base. In addition, it is also regarded as the party that is the most committed to economic policy, and as being the most capable party in this area. In contrast, only ten per cent of voters perceive the SVP as being the leader in economic policy. The FDP is also considered to be the most capable party when it comes to European policy.

The 2015 elections showed that the two young parties, BDP and GLP, still have fairly unstable foundations. Both have a small voter base and were reliant on swing voters in order to survive. Furthermore, the electorate failed to identify either party with particular issues or solutions to those issues in 2015. In addition, the number of voters who could see themselves voting for the GLP or BDP has dropped considerably since 2011. On the other hand, the problem facing the centrist CVP (Christian Democratic People's Party) is that it relies primarily on traditional voters, a group that has been shrinking over the years.

Bourgeois parties: Discrepancy between candidates and voters

Once again, the 2015 elections saw a further increase in polarisation. Over the last 20 years, the electorate has not shifted substantially to either the left or the right overall, but SVP voters have become considerably more right wing, and those voting FDP have become slightly more right wing. To offset this, SP (Social Democrat) and GPS (Green) voters have moved further leftward since 1995. This polarisation poses a problem for the GPS and SP, since both no longer attract as many voters from the centre as in 1995. This limits their potential for growth as there aren't more left-wing voters.

A comparison of the political positions of the electorate and the candidates from the various parties shows that the GPS, SP and CVP candidates occupy largely similar positions on the left-right axis to their voters. Candidates from the GLP, BDP, FDP and SVP, on the other hand, are further right than their voters. This is most striking in the case of the GLP. While GLP candidates have been positioning themselves in the centre, their voters are distinctly left of centre. Differences in position were also apparent on a range of issues, especially among the bourgeois parties. For example, the majority of SVP, FDP, BDP and GLP candidates are in favour of raising the retirement age; the majority of these four parties' supporters are against it.

(*)Lutz, Georg (2016). Eidgenössische Wahlen 2015. Wahlteilnahme und Wahlentscheid. [Swiss national elections 2015. Electoral participation and voting decision] FORS Lausanne. Publication in German (also available in French and Italian) at www.selects.ch.

Contact

Georg Lutz: Tel. 078 689 18 54 – georg.lutz@fors.unil.ch
Pascal Sciarini: Tel. 079 447 99 43 – pascal.sciarini@unige.ch

About Selects

Every four years since 1995, the Selects project has carried out research into voting behaviour during federal elections. Selects is a network of electoral researchers from various Swiss universities and federal bodies involved in elections (FSO, Federal Chancellery). Together, they form a committee that bears scientific responsibility for the project. Selects is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the research is conducted by FORS in Lausanne. Selects collects data for scientific research. All data collected by Selects are documented at FORS and are freely available for scientific purposes.

As part of the Selects project, comprehensive surveys were carried out for the 2015 elections:

  • Post-election survey of 5337 voters
  • 7000 to 11,000 individuals were polled on four occasions, before and after the elections, so as to investigate the immediate effects of campaigns on voting behaviour.
  • 1676 candidates for the National Council and Council of States were polled.
  • Media analysis

Georg Lutz, author of the study, is the project manager of the Selects Swiss electoral study at the FORS centre of excellence in Lausanne, as well as a professor of political science at the University of Lausanne.

Pascal Sciarini author of the study, is the project manager of the Selects Swiss electoral study at the FORS centre of excellence in Lausanne, as well as a professor of political science at the University of Lausanne.

Peter Farago is Director of FORS and a professor at the University of Lausanne.