Political Statistics


Despite its impressive size, there are several severe gaps in the content of this chapter. In particular, the history of the Swiss military is processed only minimally. Because historical research in this area of political statistics has unearthed little useful data, with the exception of the few expenditure summaries which we introduced in chapter U. (“Public Finance”), we decided not to include any military statistics. This chapter also does not report on the platforms, election, and voting recommendations of political parties and organizations, even though there is a wealth of pertinent data sources. Likewise, we do not cover the number of bills adopted by parliament during a legislative period, and we only list those major politicians who, at some point in their political careers, served as members of the Executive Federal Council. After finding conflicting data in our sources, we retroactively removed a set of statistics on federal personnel. Finally, we refrained from addressing the quantitative side of Swiss political relations with foreign nations.
The reason why this chapter nevertheless ended up larger than average is that we did not want to deviate from our plan to present a summary of the results of national votes in the cantons and in the city of Zurich from 1848 to the present, regardless of the numerous problems inherent in such an ambitious project. We wish to recognize the enormous amount of technical assistance given to us by Robert Reichmuth, the former director of data processing of the Institute for Empirical Economic Research at the University of Zurich: without the data transfer program he created specifically for this purpose, it would have been impossible for us to download those thousands of numbers from the mainframe to our personal computers.
The remaining tables in this chapter reflect the latest research, consisting primarily of the results of the both numerous and thorough research efforts of Bern’s political scientist Erich Gruner and his team of assistants on the outcome of national votes since 1848. Since those statistics are readily available, few of them are included in this publication. Two areas required complementary data. With the help of election results listed in the official statistics, we extended to the year 1995 Gruner’s overview of political parties represented in the national assembly and in the senate between 1848 and 1975. It also seemed useful to process official statistics at the canton level on the number of national assembly and senate seats won by political parties in national elections for the period of 1919–1995. (The year 1919 marks the switch from the majority to the party-proportional electoral system). There are sources that would have permitted the plotting of the political party composition of canton legislatures and city councils back to the time shortly after the end of World War I or even earlier; however, this task would have required a far greater effort than that needed for the reconstruction of national assembly seats won by parties in national elections. For this reason, at the local level we limited ourselves to presenting the results of city, municipal, canton, and national assembly elections in the city of Zurich, where very accurate records have been kept for many years. Records covering the outcome of municipal council elections even allowed the preparation of a table by city district extending back to 1913.

Results of National Votes by Canton and in the City of Zurich in the Years 1848, 1866, 1872, and 1874–1993

Why did we pay so much attention to the results of national votes? One reason is the idiosyncratic nature of the “Swiss-style” democracy with its mandatory and non-mandatory referenda, people’s initiatives, and governmental counterproposals. Another is the often significant difference in voting patterns in various regions, cantons, and cities, which justified including in this report the outcome of voting at the regional and canton levels, as well as voting results of Zurich – since 1893 the most populous Swiss city – from the birth of the federation to the present. Data contained in the Statistical Yearbook of Switzerland would allow the reconstruction of voting results for the period 1930–1986 for nine other large and medium cities. While this data is missing for the years 1987 and 1988, since 1989 official statistics again contain the voting results of 16 cities. Theoretically, tallies could also be tabulated for the remaining (slightly over 3000) municipalities for a significant number of votes. To the best of our knowledge, this very labor-intensive task has been successfully tackled only once: in his licentiate thesis (“Lizentiatsarbeit”) at the Research Institute for Swiss Social and Economic History at the University of Zurich (“Forschungsstelle für schweizerische Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Universität Zürich”), Marcel Wirz determined, for comparative purposes, voter participation and the percentage of affirmative votes in all municipalities for the votes of 1959 and 1971, where male voters first denied and then approved women’s right of vote in votes concerning national matters.
Before we switch our attention to the sources from which our national voting statistics since 1848 are based, we need to explain terminology. The definition of the expression “voting public” has been expanded in stages over the past 25 years: women received the right to vote on February 7, 1971; Swiss nationals living abroad on December 19, 1975; and 18–19 year old Swiss citizens received the right to vote on national matters on March 3, 1991. “States” (“Stände” / “Etats”) refers to the 20 (before 1979: 19) cantons and six so-called half-cantons. The former have a full vote, the latter only a half vote. The cantons with only half a “state” vote are Obwalden, Nidwalden, BasleCity, Basle-Country, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden. “State” majorities are of importance for federal initiatives which have a mandated public vote, as well as for people’s initiatives and governmental counterproposals to people’s initiatives. A non-mandatory referendum represents the only instance where an initiative can be adopted even if a majority of the cantons reject it.
The first twelve popular votes, of which nine occurred in the year 1866, were all subject to the mandatory referendum. On January 30, 1921, voters – after having agreed to Switzerland’s entry into the League of the Nations – adopted a people’s initiative that mandated the Executive Federal Council to submit long-term or unlimited state contracts with foreign nations to popular vote. However, there have been only two such “Obligatory State Contract Referenda” to date: the first on March 3, 1986, deciding on the question of full membership of Switzerland in the United Nations; and the second on December 6, 1992, on whether Switzerland should join the European Economic Union.
The non-mandatory referendum is an achievement of the 1874 Constitution. It can be initiated by a private party in order to keep a governmental decree not subject to the mandatory referendum without a popular vote from taking effect. In addition, since 1891, the instrument of the people’s initiative offers citizens a means of limited participation in constitutional revisions and the passing of laws. To force a vote, both the non-mandatory referendum and the people’s initiative require a demonstrated degree of popular support. On September 25, 1977, Swiss voters approved a government proposal to increase the legally required minimum number of signatures for the non-mandatory referendum from 30,000 to 50,000, and from 50,000 to 100,000 for the people’s initiative. Government can also guard against the potential dangers posed to democracy through overly liberal use of these two political instruments by submitting more moderate counterproposals to initiatives that are, in principle, acceptable to the government. In the past, such compromise proposals generally led to withdrawal of the original initiative. Every now and then, however, the voting population is faced with both an initiative and the Federal Executive Council’s counterproposal. Since April 5, 1987, it is legal in such cases to vote in the affirmative on both proposals instead of a yes and a no, a double no, or a yes or no and an abstention. If both proposals receive more than 50% of the vote, then the one getting the greater plurality wins.
It is now necessary to provide commentary to the sources. We have included estimates by Jürg Segesser on the public vote of 1848 on the federal constitution. Information provided on the results from 1866 and 1872 originate from the Statistical Yearbook of Switzerland and – for voting participation – from the third volume of Erich Gruner’s analysis of national assembly elections of the years 1848 to 1919. For the period 1874–1979 we were able to use data assembled by Peter Gilg (Research Center for Swiss Politics, Berne) and Rolf Nef (Cultur Prospectiv, Zurich) under a project financed by the Swiss National Fund. Up to 1945, this data is based on official statistics processed by district, and the authors’ own research (unpublished). In general, there is little deviation between the results published in the “Official Gazette of the Swiss Confederation” (“Bundesblatt der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft” / “Feuille fédérale de la Confédération suisse”) and the Statistical Yearbook, and the figures aggregated by Gilg and Nef from district data. It is, however, noteworthy that in certain cases, the control calculations resulted in the “switching” of a canton vote. However, this would not have changed the overall outcome, so there is no reason to request a repeat of those 50 to 100 year old votes.
In this publication, we solely use individual cantons’ voting results as reported by Gilg and Nef. The grand total represents the sum of the canton values computed by Gilg and Nef, and therefore is not necessarily identical with official tallies. Since it is interesting to know the actual as well as the official result of a vote, we provide for each vote the number of cantons in favor and opposed as reported by the official statistics. For the rare cases where Gilg and Nef were unable to reconstruct the voting results by summing up district data, we used the tables by canton of the Statistical Yearbook of Switzerland. Votes so affected were those of April 19, 1874 (Ticino), April 23, 1876 (Ticino and Neuchâtel), July 9, 1876 (Neuchâtel), October 31, 1880 (Grisons), October 26, 1890 (Grisons), March 4, 1894 (Grisons), May 13, 1917 (Solothurn), December 1, 1940 (Zurich, Lucerne, Solothurn, Vaud, Wallis), March 9, 1941 (Zurich, Solothurn, Vaud, Wallis), January 25, 1942 (Zurich, Solothurn, Vaud, and Wallis), Mai 3, 1942 (Vaud, Wallis), October 29, 1944 (Vaud and Wallis), and from January 21, 1945 (Vaud and Wallis).
Beginning with 1946, the data compiled by Gilg and Nef is identical to the official statistics. We took the results of votes for the years 1980–1986 from the Statistical Yearbook of Switzerland, those from the years 1987 and 1988 from the “Official Gazette of the Swiss Confederation”, and those for the years 1989–1993 from the publication “Cantons and cities of Switzerland” (“Kantone und Städte der Schweiz” / “Cantons et villes suisses”).
In order to obtain information on the voting patterns of residents of the city of Zurich, we consulted three additional sources: an article published in 1942 by Alfred Senti in the “Zürcher Statistische Nachrichten”, which recorded the results of national votes since 1848 in the city and canton of Zurich; the 1949 volume of the statistical yearbook of the canton of Zurich; and various volumes of the statistical yearbook of the city of Zurich. Based on these three sources, we succeeded in documenting the outcome of national votes in the city of Zurich dating back to the beginning of the federation. Those planning a long-term analysis of this data should consider that the number of Zurich residents with voting rights jumped after each of the major political incorporations of the years 1893 and 1934. We strongly assume that the voting patterns of the newcomers differed from those of the original residents.
In its entirety, this publication records the results of over 400 national votes, beginning with the decision in late summer of 1848 to convert the confederation of states into a federation, and ending with the “August 1st initiative” of September, 1993 where Switzerland, after 700 years of independence, finally voted to treat itself to the luxury of a non-working national holiday. Four additional 1993 government proposals, all of them approved by vast popular majorities and with almost unanimous support from the cantons, are not contained in our overview: the national decree against misuse of weapons; temporary measures against the cost escalation in health insurance; changes in unemployment insurance; and the adoption of a 6.2% valueadded tax.
The final table in this chapter represents a kind of summary of Swiss voting habits since 1848. It consists of calculations based on the series for the canton and the city of Zurich shown on previous pages. In order to do justice to the extraordinary political intensity of early votes on the one hand, and the significant increase of proposals since the late 1960s on the other, we present averages for periods of unequal duration.

SOURCE: «Political Statistics» in Ritzmann/Siegenthaler, Historical Statistics of Switzerland, Zürich: Chronos, 1996, 1033-1038

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The current chapter contains 16 table(s) between 1848 and 1998