The federal elections took place on 19 October 2015, with the election of the Federal Council and the Council of States. In some cantons, these elections continued with a second round for the Council of States, as in Geneva and the canton of Vaud. Today (November 2015), they are still going on in some German-speaking cantons for the Council of States and will finish at the end of December 2015 for the election of the Federal Council.
We will use this concrete event to see what political science can tell us about this case. Firstly, from the perspective of Swiss politics, how does the context of elections influence elections? In other words, how does the institutional context, the political context, influence the behaviour of voters, the strategies of the political parties and perhaps also the outcome of the elections?
The institutional context provides a very introductory overview of the main institutions of the Swiss political system. We will look at the system of government, direct democracy, federalism and the electoral system and try to show how these fundamental Swiss institutions influence federal elections. This is the context in which political parties operate and voters behave, vote and form their opinions. We will see how this context to some extent predetermines voters' choices. We will also discuss the political context of the elections, i.e. the cleavage structure and the party system at national and cantonal level, as well as the differences that exist from one canton to another.
Assessing the balance of power[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The graph shows the electoral strength of the main Swiss political parties from 1947 to 2015. The data show the percentage of the vote obtained by each party in elections to the National Council.
The National Council in Switzerland is one of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly, the other being the Council of States. With 200 seats, the National Council is the largest chamber and is generally regarded as the most representative of the country's political forces. Elections to the National Council are based on a system of proportional representation, which means that the number of seats a party wins is proportional to the number of votes it receives.
Rise in power of the UDC[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The Swiss People's Party (SVP) is a right-wing political party known for its conservative stance on issues such as immigration, European integration and taxation. Over the past two decades, the SVP has enjoyed a spectacular rise in popularity in Switzerland, becoming the party with the largest number of seats in the National Council. This rise can be attributed to a number of factors.
The SVP is widely known for its positions on issues such as immigration and national sovereignty. It has often argued for tighter restrictions on immigration and opposed greater Swiss integration into international organisations such as the European Union. The party also places great emphasis on defending what it perceives as traditional Swiss values. The party's German name, "Schweizerische Volkspartei", which translates as "Swiss People's Party", reflects its positioning as a party that claims to represent the interests of the Swiss "people".
The history of the Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC), a Swiss political party, is a fascinating case study in political transformation. In the decades following the Second World War, the SVP was a minor party, garnering only between 10 and 12% of the vote. However, from 1995 onwards, the party began a meteoric rise, reaching a peak in 2005. This transformation is the result of several key factors. Firstly, the SVP underwent significant changes in leadership and strategy during the 1990s. Figures such as Christoph Blocher reshaped the party's message around conservative and nationalist values, with an aggressive communications strategy that gave the SVP new vigour. Secondly, the SVP has capitalised on the issues of immigration and European integration, generating considerable support among a population that is increasingly concerned about globalisation and national sovereignty. Finally, the rise of the SVP can be seen in the context of growing political polarisation in Switzerland and beyond, illustrating how political dynamics can change radically in response to shifts in leadership, political issues and social tensions.
The Swiss People's Party (SVP) achieved a significant feat in the 2015 elections in Switzerland, approaching the 30% vote mark. This is a considerable achievement in the Swiss political context, particularly since the introduction of the proportional suffrage system in 1919, no party had managed to exceed this threshold. The use of the term "mythical" to describe this 30% mark highlights its significance: it is a mark of political dominance rarely achieved in Switzerland's diverse, multi-party political landscape. The fact that the SVP has come so close to this mark shows its considerable influence and the significant support it has managed to win among the Swiss electorate. The SVP's proximity to this threshold in the 2015 elections indicates the effectiveness of its political strategy, which focuses on issues of immigration, sovereignty and conservatism. It also illustrates the potential impact of political polarisation and socio-economic concerns on electoral results.
Period of stability until 1990[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Swiss politics is known for its stability, characterised by a party system that remained fairly constant until the 1990s. Although some variations could be observed from one election to the next, the distribution of votes between the main parties generally remained fairly stable. The Swiss Socialist Party (in pink), the Liberal-Radical Party (in blue) and the Christian Democrat Party (in orange) were the major political players, and their positions on the political spectrum were well established. This relatively unchanging political landscape is characteristic of Switzerland, a country known for its political and economic stability. However, the emergence of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) in the 1990s and its rapid growth have altered this image of stability. The rise of the SVP has caused some disruption to the traditional party system, reflecting the changing concerns and values of Swiss voters. The transformation of the Swiss political landscape over this period provides an interesting example of the changing dynamics of multi-party politics and the influence of political parties on the formation of policies and governments.
The rise of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) in the 1990s and 2000s profoundly altered the Swiss political landscape. Previously characterised by a high degree of stability between the main parties - the Socialist Party, the Liberal-Radical Party and the Christian Democratic Party - the Swiss party system became more dynamic and less predictable with the emergence of the SVP as the dominant political force. This transition to a more unstable party system reflects a period of significant change in Swiss politics. The SVP, with its discourse centred on conservative and nationalist themes, has succeeded in mobilising broad support, challenging the existing balance of power. This period of change has also seen greater volatility in voter preferences, with a redistribution of votes between the different parties. This illustrates how social, economic and political change can reshape a country's political landscape, even in a system as stable as Switzerland's.
The meteoric rise of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) in the 1990s and 2000s was not without consequences for Switzerland's other political parties. In particular, both the Christian Democratic Party and the Liberal-Radical Party suffered a significant erosion of their electoral base during this period. The Christian Democratic Party, symbolised in orange in the vote distribution graphs, has followed an almost linear downward trend since the late 1970s and 1980s. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including changing voter preferences and the emergence of the SVP as an influential political force. Similarly, the Liberal-Radical Party has also suffered a sharp decline in electoral support over time. However, in 2015, there appears to have been a slight recovery, although the precise cause of this upturn in support could be due to a number of factors, including strategic changes, specific policy concerns or a repositioning in relation to other parties. This dynamic demonstrates how the emergence of a powerful new political party can upset the existing balance and lead to a redistribution of votes between the parties. It also highlights how changes in the political landscape can reflect wider social and cultural transformations.
Emergence of new parties[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The Swiss Greens, formed in 1979, represent another interesting aspect of the country's political landscape. They were among the first Green parties to have a significant impact on European politics, with the election of Daniel Brélaz to the European Parliament. This victory marked the first time that a member of the Green party had been elected to such a position. After this initial breakthrough, the Greens experienced a significant growth in support until 2007, demonstrating the growing importance of environmental issues in public opinion. However, after 2007, the party suffered a decline, perhaps due to a shift in voter priorities or a wider political context.
Despite this decline, Daniel Brélaz managed to make a remarkable comeback in 2015 by being re-elected to the Swiss National Council. His re-election underlines the continuing commitment to environmental issues among a significant proportion of the Swiss electorate, as well as the continuing role of the Greens in Swiss politics. The trajectory of the Swiss Greens illustrates how political parties can evolve and adapt in response to specific issues and changes in public opinion. Their experience also demonstrates how a party can maintain its influence, even in the face of challenges and changes in the wider political landscape.
The emergence of new political parties, such as the Green Liberal Party and the Bourgeois Democratic Party, is another interesting feature of recent developments in Swiss politics. These two parties managed to make an impressive entry onto the political scene in the 2011 elections, showing that there is still room for new players in Switzerland's multi-party system. The Green Liberal Party attempted to combine the environmental concerns of the traditional Greens with a more centrist or liberal orientation on other policy issues. This combination succeeded in attracting a significant number of voters in the 2011 elections. Similarly, the Bourgeois Democratic Party succeeded in establishing itself on the political scene in 2011. This party was formed by SVP members who disagreed with the party's increasingly nationalistic orientation. By positioning itself as a more moderate alternative to the SVP, the Bourgeois Democratic Party managed to win considerable support in the 2011 elections. However, in 2015, these two new parties struggled more. This could be due to a number of factors, including the natural volatility of electoral preferences, changes in the political context or the specific challenges these parties faced. In any case, the emergence of these new parties demonstrates the continuing dynamism and evolution of the Swiss political landscape.
Years of transformation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The graph clearly illustrates the significant changes that have taken place in Swiss politics over the last thirty years. Whereas the Swiss political landscape was once characterised by great stability between the main parties, the rise of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) has profoundly transformed this system.
The UDC, with its right-wing conservative and nationalist discourse, has succeeded in mobilising broad support among the Swiss electorate, upsetting the existing balance between the political parties. This has led to a significant redistribution of votes and eroded the electoral base of traditional parties such as the Christian Democrat and Liberal-Radical parties.
At the same time, we have seen the emergence of new parties, such as the Greens, the Green Liberal Party and the Bourgeois Democratic Party, reflecting the changing concerns and values of Swiss voters.
This dynamic demonstrates that even in a political system as stable as Switzerland's, there can be significant and rapid change. It also illustrates how political parties must constantly adapt and evolve in response to changes in public opinion and the wider political context.
The institutional context of the elections[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Which institutions have a direct or indirect influence on voters' electoral behaviour, party strategies, media coverage and, ultimately, the outcome of elections?
The institutions that influence voting behaviour, party strategies, media coverage and ultimately the outcome of elections are many and varied. Each plays a distinct but crucial role in the way elections are conducted and perceived by the public.
The electoral system in Switzerland is a key player. Based on proportional representation, it allocates seats according to the percentage of votes obtained by each party. This influences the strategy of parties, which focus on winning broad support rather than specific constituencies. Voters may also feel more inclined to vote for smaller parties, as they know that their voice counts in this system. The media is another influential institution. They have the power to shape public opinion by highlighting certain issues, giving greater visibility to certain candidates or parties, and providing analyses that shape public perception. Media coverage can thus play a considerable role in shaping voting decisions. As far as the Swiss political system is concerned, the 'Concordance' model encourages cooperation between parties and proportional representation in government. This can influence the way parties campaign and manage their relations with each other, fostering a climate of collaboration rather than confrontation. Polling organisations also represent an important influence. By providing information on voters' voting intentions, they can influence party strategy, shape media coverage and even influence voter behaviour, particularly with regard to 'strategic voting'. In addition, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other civil society groups can influence elections by highlighting certain issues, organising awareness campaigns or supporting certain candidates or parties. Finally, educational institutions play an indirect but important role in elections. By shaping citizens' attitudes and opinions over the long term, they can have an impact on electoral behaviour. Thus, a multitude of institutions are involved in the electoral process, either directly through their involvement in the process, or indirectly through their influence on public opinion and voter behaviour.
Features of the Government System[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
What is meant by "system of government"?
The term "system of government" encompasses several key concepts relating to the way in which a government is formed and the way in which it interacts with other branches of government. The first aspect concerns the way in which the government is elected, or more precisely, how the executive is elected. This may be directly by the people, as in some presidential systems, or by parliament, as is often the case in parliamentary systems.
The second aspect of the system of government concerns the type of relationship between the government (executive power) and parliament (legislative power). In some systems, these two branches of government are largely independent of each other, each having its own responsibilities and areas of competence. In other systems, they are more interdependent, with the executive branch able to control or even sanction the legislative branch, or vice versa.
This interdependence, or lack of it, leads to varying degrees of fusion between the executive and legislative branches. In systems where these powers are strongly fused, we can have a situation where the government is in reality an extension of parliament, or where parliament is dominated by the government. Conversely, in systems where these powers are clearly separated, government and parliament can operate as separate entities, each with its own mandate and authority.
In comparative politics, the literature distinguishes two main types of system of government, also known as types of political regime.
Comparison of different types of government: parliamentary system vs. presidential system[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
In the field of comparative politics, academic literature generally distinguishes between two main types of system of government or political regime: the parliamentary system and the presidential system.
The parliamentary system is characterised by the flexible separation of powers and the dependence of the executive branch on the legislative branch. In such a system, the government (executive) is elected by parliament and depends on its confidence to remain in office. It can be overthrown by a vote of no confidence. On the other hand, the head of state (a monarch or president) generally has a more symbolic or ceremonial role, while the real power is held by the head of government (often called the prime minister). Examples of parliamentary systems can be found in the UK, Germany, Canada and India.
The presidential system, on the other hand, is characterised by a strict separation of powers. The president is both head of state and head of government, and is generally elected directly by the people. The president has executive power and does not depend on the confidence of the legislature to remain in office. The legislative branch (parliament or congress) generally cannot overthrow the president by a vote of no confidence, unless he is impeached for serious acts. Examples of presidential systems can be found in the United States, Brazil and France (which is actually a semi-presidential system with a mixture of presidential and parliamentary features).
It should be noted that these categories are ideal-types and that many countries have hybrid systems which combine elements of both types, or which differ from these models in various ways.
The parliamentary system[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
In a parliamentary system, the government is elected indirectly. It is parliament that elects the government, rather than the citizens directly. Typically, the leader of the party with the most seats in parliament, or sometimes the leader of a coalition of parties, becomes the head of government. This system is designed to ensure that the government reflects the composition of parliament, which is itself elected by the people. The way this system works can vary from country to country. For example, in some countries, the head of state (such as a monarch or president) has the power to appoint the head of government, but usually has to choose the leader of the majority party in parliament. In other countries, parliament itself elects the head of government. One of the advantages of this system is that it ensures a degree of consistency between the will of the people (as expressed in the election of parliament) and the composition of the government. However, it can also lead to governmental instability if no stable coalition can be formed within parliament.
In a parliamentary system, executive power is usually exercised collectively by a council of ministers, led by a prime minister or equivalent figure. This "captain" of the government is often the leader of the majority party in parliament, or sometimes of a coalition of parties. The terminology varies from country to country. In Italy, for example, the head of government is known as the "President of the Council", in Germany as the "Chancellor" and in the UK as the "Prime Minister". However, although the titles vary, the role of these leaders remains fairly similar: they lead the government, define the broad policy guidelines and ensure that the laws are implemented. It should be noted that in some parliamentary systems, the head of state (such as a king, queen or president) also plays a role, although often a largely ceremonial one. At the same time, they may have certain important responsibilities, such as appointing the Prime Minister or dissolving parliament.
To define a political system, two essential criteria are often taken into account: the way in which the government is elected and the nature of the relationship between the government and parliament. On the one hand, the way in which the government is elected helps us to understand how executive power is constituted. In a parliamentary system, for example, the government is elected indirectly. Citizens vote to elect members of parliament and it is this parliament that then forms the government. This procedure is different in a presidential system, where voters directly choose the head of the executive, often called the president. The nature of the relationship between government and parliament is also crucial to understanding how a political system works. It describes how these two branches of power, the executive and the legislature, interact with each other. In a parliamentary system, for example, there is mutual dependence between the government and parliament: the government is accountable to parliament, which has the power to overturn it by a motion of censure. However, in a presidential system, the president and parliament generally operate more independently. In short, these two criteria play a fundamental role in the analysis of the governance structures of a democracy and allow us to understand the interactions and distribution of powers between the different political institutions.
In a parliamentary system, the government and parliament maintain a relationship of mutual control, which is essential to the balance of political power. On the one hand, the government has the ability to control parliament. For example, in some parliamentary systems, the government may have the power to dissolve parliament and call early elections. This power can be used to control the political agenda and ensure the stability of the government. On the other hand, parliament has significant means of controlling the government. For example, parliament can pass a motion of censure to overthrow the government. In addition, parliamentarians are responsible for questioning and examining the government's actions, often through parliamentary committees. They also have the power to vote on the budget, which gives them a great deal of influence over government policy. This balance of mutual control, also known as checks and balances, ensures that power is not disproportionately concentrated in the hands of either the executive or the legislature. Instead, these two branches of government are able to monitor and control each other. This is essential to maintain a healthy and functioning democracy.
In a parliamentary system, the motion of censure and the question of confidence are key institutional mechanisms that regulate the relationship between parliament and government, ensuring mutual control. The motion of censure is a parliamentary instrument that allows parliament to dismiss the government. For a motion of censure to be passed, it must generally receive the support of a majority of the members of parliament. If the motion of censure is passed, the government is obliged to resign and a new government must be formed. This is a powerful way for parliament to exercise control over the government. The question of confidence is a mechanism by which the government seeks parliament's approval on an important political issue. If parliament votes against the question of confidence, the government is usually required to resign or ask the head of state to dissolve parliament and call new elections. This is a way for the government to check that it still has the support it needs to govern. These mutual checks and balances play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of power in a parliamentary system. They ensure that the government is held accountable to parliament and help prevent the abuse of power.
In such a system, the government is accountable to parliament. This means that it is accountable to parliament for its actions and policies. If the government adopts policies that are not supported by the parliamentary majority, parliament can use mechanisms such as a motion of censure to remove it from office. The government can also be forced to resign if a question of confidence is rejected by parliament. The government also has the power to dissolve parliament and call early elections. This can be a strategic tactic for the government if, for example, it believes that the current political climate is favourable and that it has a chance of strengthening its parliamentary majority. It is also a way of resetting relations between government and parliament if they become strained or conflictual. These mechanisms guarantee mutual control between the government and parliament and are essential for maintaining the balance of power in a parliamentary system.
In a parliamentary system, the government also has a degree of control over parliament. Although the government must answer to parliament and be supported by a parliamentary majority to remain in power, it also has the ability to dissolve parliament and call early elections. This is an important way for the government to control parliament. For example, if the government feels that it can no longer work effectively with the current parliament, or if parliament is too divided to form a stable majority, the government may choose to dissolve parliament. By calling early elections, the government has the opportunity to seek a new mandate from the electorate and potentially work with a new parliament more in line with its policies. It is therefore a two-way power dynamic: parliament has the power to dismiss the government, but the government also has the power to dissolve parliament. This ensures a form of balance and encourages cooperation between these two essential institutions.
The mechanisms of mutual control impose a certain form of collaboration between the government and parliament. If the government takes decisions that are not in agreement with the parliamentary majority, it risks facing a motion of censure that could bring it down. Similarly, if parliament consistently refuses to support the government's legislative proposals, the government could dissolve parliament and call new elections. These mechanisms ensure a balance of power and encourage both parties to work together to reach consensus on important political issues. However, it is important to note that these mechanisms may vary according to the specific political context of each country. For example, in some parliamentary systems, the government cannot dissolve parliament at its own discretion, but needs the approval of the head of state or a parliamentary majority.
These systems are marked by constant interaction and close collaboration between government and parliament. The need for mutual support and cohesion between the governing parties leads to a significant fusion of executive and legislative powers. This means that the parties that form the government must maintain a degree of unity and consensus to avoid a motion of censure. This dynamic encourages intensive cooperation between the governing parties, often leading to an overlap of legislative and executive roles. In some cases, this can blur the distinction between executive and legislative power. For example, members of the government may also sit in parliament, thus contributing to both aspects of governance. This interdependence is a key feature of parliamentary systems, and it is precisely what differentiates them from presidential systems where executive and legislative powers are more clearly separated.
The British parliamentary system is a classic example of the fusion of executive and legislative powers. It is common for ministers to also be members of Parliament - that is, they are both MPs (members of the House of Commons) or Lords (members of the House of Lords) and executive ministers. This duality of roles reinforces the mixing of powers between the executive and the legislature. By being a member of both the executive and the legislature, a minister can participate directly in the creation of laws and their implementation. This fusion of powers allows close alignment between these two branches of government, facilitating effective cooperation and coordination. This is a distinctive feature of parliamentary systems, which differs markedly from the strict separation of powers found in presidential systems.
The presidential system[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The second system of government is the presidential system. The presidential system is distinctive in several respects. Firstly, the president is elected directly by the people. This means that when elections are held, it is the people who decide who will be the next president. This direct election strengthens the legitimacy of the president in the eyes of the people, because he or she is chosen directly by them. Secondly, in a presidential system, the president has considerable executive power. The President appoints his or her ministers and secretaries of state, directs the country's diplomacy and commands its armed forces. In short, the President centralises a wide range of executive powers in his own person, ensuring strong leadership and effective decision-making. Thirdly, and this is where the presidential system differs most from the parliamentary system, the president and his government on the one hand, and parliament on the other, are independent of each other. The president cannot dissolve parliament and parliament cannot dismiss the president. Once elected, they remain in office for the duration of the legislature. Neither can be overthrown. This guarantees a certain stability of government and administration, but also limits the ability to adapt in the event of major political or social changes.
The American presidential system includes an exception to this rule of total independence between the president and parliament, thanks to the "impeachment" procedure. This procedure, which amounts to the impeachment of the President, is intended for situations of extreme crisis, when the President is suspected of having committed "major crimes and misdemeanours". Although rare, this procedure has been initiated on several occasions in the history of the United States. However, the impeachment process is complex and requires the approval of both houses of Congress: the House of Representatives must first vote on the articles of impeachment, then the Senate must hold a trial and, finally, a two-thirds majority is needed to remove the President from office. Although this impeachment procedure does exist, it remains an exception to the general rule of independence between the President and Parliament in the presidential system. As a general rule, the president remains in office for the duration of his term, as does parliament.
In a presidential system, a clear separation of executive and legislative powers is effectively maintained, as opposed to the fusion of powers that characterises parliamentary systems. This principle of separation of powers is one of the foundations of the presidential model. Check and balance" mechanisms are put in place to maintain this balance of power between the different branches of government. These mechanisms ensure that no branch of government - be it the executive, the legislature or the judiciary - becomes too powerful and can abuse its power. For example, the president has the power of veto over laws passed by parliament, but parliament in turn can override this veto by a qualified majority. Similarly, although the President appoints Supreme Court judges, these appointments must be approved by the Senate. This separation of powers and these checks and balances are designed to ensure that democracy functions properly and to prevent abuses of power in a presidential system.
The most striking example of a parliamentary system is the United Kingdom. Indeed, the "Westminster system" is often presented as the prototype of the parliamentary system. However, many other countries, particularly in Europe, also apply a parliamentary system, including Germany, Italy, Austria and the Scandinavian countries. In these systems, the government is often formed on the basis of a parliamentary majority. However, given the diversity of political parties and the fragmentation of the political landscape, it is not uncommon for the government to be in a minority. In other words, even when several parties form a coalition to govern, they may not hold a majority in Parliament. This is a scenario frequently seen in Denmark, where the fragmented political landscape often leads to the formation of minority governments. In such cases, the government depends on the support of other small parties to obtain the parliamentary majority needed to govern effectively. This can lead to complex political negotiations and require significant cooperation and consensus between the parties.
In any case, in most countries around Switzerland there is a parliamentary system, the archetype of which is the British system, while the archetype of the presidential system comes from the United States. The British parliamentary system is characterised by close collaboration between the legislative power (parliament) and the executive power (government). In this system, the Prime Minister, who is the head of government, is generally the leader of the party with the majority of seats in parliament. On the other hand, the American presidential system is characterised by a strict separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers. In this system, the President, elected directly by the people, holds most of the executive power. Congress (made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate) holds legislative power and cannot be dissolved by the President. This separation of powers provides a system of checks and balances between the different branches of government. Most countries adopt a hybrid form of these two systems, with certain features adapted to suit their particular political and constitutional context.
The French political system is often described as "semi-presidential" or "semi-parliamentary", because it combines elements of the two systems you have described. In the French system, the President is elected by direct universal suffrage, which gives him or her strong democratic legitimacy. As Head of State, the President has wide-ranging powers, particularly in foreign and defence policy. He can also dissolve the National Assembly and call new general elections. On the other hand, the French government, headed by the Prime Minister, is accountable to parliament. It is the President who appoints the Prime Minister, but the latter must have the support of the majority of the National Assembly in order to govern effectively. The government can be overthrown by a motion of no confidence passed by the National Assembly. This system was designed to create a balance between executive and legislative power. However, it can also lead to situations of "cohabitation", when the president and the parliamentary majority are from different political parties.
The Swiss system of government[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
A foray into comparative politics provides a clearer picture of the characteristics of the Swiss system of government and how it can be classified in the light of these distinctions between parliamentary and presidential systems.
Switzerland is distinguished by its single system of government, often referred to as the "consensus" system. This system is a variant of the parliamentary system and has particular characteristics, influenced by the country's historical, cultural and geographical context. Switzerland is a federation made up of 26 cantons, each with a high degree of autonomy. Executive power is exercised collectively by the seven-member Federal Council. These members are elected by the Federal Assembly (the Swiss parliament) for a four-year term. This method of indirect election is characteristic of the parliamentary system.
However, what particularly distinguishes the Swiss system is the "magic formula" principle. Since 1959, the seats on the Federal Council have been distributed among the four main political parties, so as to reflect the country's political diversity. This distribution has changed over the years, but the aim is to ensure a government based on coalition and consensus, rather than confrontation. In addition, each member of the Federal Council heads a department of the federal administration, but there is no Prime Minister. The President of the Confederation is a member of the Federal Council, elected for one year, but his role is essentially representative and does not confer any additional powers. Finally, it is important to stress that the Swiss political system is also characterised by federalism, direct democracy and multilingualism. These elements strongly influence the electoral behaviour of citizens, the strategies of political parties and the outcome of elections.
A hybrid system of government[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The Swiss political system is not an easy case from the point of view of this distinction between a parliamentary system and a presidential system; it is not the easiest case to classify. The Swiss political system is unique and does not fit easily into the classic distinction between parliamentary and presidential systems.
Switzerland is sometimes referred to as having a "consensus system of government", which differs from the traditional parliamentary form of government where a party or coalition of parties holding a parliamentary majority forms the government. Instead, Switzerland has a 'magic formula' for the composition of its executive, the Federal Council. Under this formula, the seats on the Federal Council are distributed among the country's main parties, thus ensuring proportional representation in government. In addition, the Swiss system is unique in that the Federal Council is collectively responsible for the governance of the country, and there is no prime minister or president with superior executive powers. The role of President of the Confederation is essentially ceremonial and rotates between the members of the Federal Council each year. In addition, Switzerland is a semi-direct democracy, meaning that the Swiss people have a direct role in political decision-making through popular initiatives and referendums, which is not typical of parliamentary or presidential systems. In short, the Swiss political system has unique features that make it difficult to classify solely as a parliamentary or presidential system. Its consensual and semi-direct nature sets it apart from many other political systems around the world.
The Swiss political system has hybrid aspects that bring it closer to a parliamentary system. In particular, the Federal Council, which forms the Swiss government, is elected by the Federal Assembly, not directly by the people. This indirect election is a characteristic of parliamentary systems. In this model, the members of the Federal Council are elected by the two chambers of the Swiss Parliament in a joint session. This election procedure reflects the operation of a parliamentary system, in which the government is generally formed by the parties with the most seats in parliament. However, it is important to note that the Swiss government functions as a college, where all the federal councillors take decisions together. There is no 'leader' among them, which differs from the usual functioning of a parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister or Chancellor generally has a leadership role.
However, the Swiss system of government is similar to the presidential system in terms of the relationship between government and parliament. In the Swiss system, as in any presidential system, there is mutual dependence between government and parliament. Once elected, the members of the Federal Council and Parliament have a fixed four-year term of office. There is no mechanism by which the Federal Council could be dissolved before the end of its term of office, nor is there any means by which Parliament could be dissolved. This institutional stability, which is characteristic of the presidential system, differs from the parliamentary system where the government can be overthrown by a motion of censure, or parliament dissolved by the government. Thus, although the Federal Council is elected by Parliament, once in office it operates independently of Parliament, just as in a presidential system. Furthermore, the Swiss government, acting as a college, operates in a collegial rather than hierarchical manner, which reinforces its independence from Parliament. However, the Swiss system also differs from traditional presidential systems. For example, although the President of the Swiss Confederation is formally the Head of State, his powers and responsibilities are very limited compared with those of a President in a presidential system.
Once elected, the Swiss Federal Council remains in office for a four-year term and cannot be overthrown by parliament, unlike in a traditional parliamentary system. This independence of the government from parliament is one of the distinguishing features of the Swiss political system. However, this does not mean that the Swiss government is not accountable. Although parliament cannot overthrow the government, the government is constitutionally accountable to parliament for its actions. Parliament has the right to oversee the government, to question members of the government and to hold them accountable for their actions. In the context of Swiss politics, when it is said that the Federal Council is "irresponsible", this means that it is not directly accountable to parliament, in terms of mechanisms for a motion of censure or impeachment, as might be the case in a traditional parliamentary system. However, this term does not mean that the Federal Council is exempt from responsibilities or obligations to parliament or to the Swiss people. In fact, the Swiss government has an obligation to account for its actions, to take account of parliament's concerns and to answer its questions. It is also obliged to respect Swiss laws and the constitution, and is subject to judicial oversight. The Federal Council's "non-accountability" should therefore not be interpreted as a lack of control or oversight, but rather as the absence of a specific mechanism that would allow parliament to remove the government in office.
The Swiss political system is unique in many respects. Its hybrid nature, combining parliamentary and presidential systems, already distinguishes it from more traditional models. However, there are other features that make it even more distinctive.
The concordance system, which is a specific feature of Swiss politics, ensures proportional representation of the main political parties in government. It should be noted that this is not a legal or constitutional obligation, but an unwritten political tradition that has evolved over time. In most parliamentary or presidential democracies, the government is formed by the party or coalition of parties that has won the most seats in parliament in the elections. In these systems, the government is generally made up of members of the same political persuasion, either left-wing or right-wing. In Switzerland, on the other hand, the composition of the Federal Council, which is the Swiss government, reflects the diversity of the political landscape. This means that parties from the left, right and centre are generally all represented in the government, regardless of the composition of parliament. This system of concordance encourages decision-making by consensus and cooperation between the parties, rather than head-on opposition. It also has the effect of giving Switzerland a degree of political stability, as changes of government are less frequent and less radical than elsewhere.
The concordance system in Switzerland differs from the grand coalitions seen in other countries such as Germany and Austria. In these countries, grand coalitions are generally the result of elections that do not allow a single party to win a majority. They are therefore often temporary and can be subject to political tensions. In Switzerland, on the other hand, the concordance system ensures that power is shared between the main political parties on a more permanent basis. This means that the government is generally made up of members from different parties, reflecting the diversity of the Swiss political landscape. The aim of this power-sharing is to ensure a degree of political stability and to encourage decision-making by consensus. So, unlike other systems where power can swing from one political camp to another depending on election results, in Switzerland power is shared more evenly and consistently between the main political parties. This distinguishes the Swiss political system from many others around the world.
Concordance in Switzerland is not codified in law. Rather, it is an unwritten political tradition that has developed over time. Concordance, also known as the "magic formula", aims to ensure proportional representation of the main Swiss political parties in government. Political parties in Switzerland have adopted this consensus approach, seeing it as a way of maintaining stability and fostering cooperation between different political forces. However, as you mentioned, there is no institutional or legal rule that obliges parties to follow this tradition. In practice, the concordance system means that political parties work together to govern, rather than being divided into a governing majority and an opposition. This can help to reduce polarisation and encourage compromise and consensus in decision-making. However, it should be noted that this tradition of concordance has also been criticised for its potential to dilute political accountability and weaken the role of the opposition.
Power Sharing Principle[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
In most other countries, executive power is held by a single individual (the president or prime minister), who may be assisted by individual ministers. In Switzerland, executive power is exercised collectively by the seven-member Federal Council. Each member of the Federal Council heads a department of the federal administration, rather like a minister. However, decisions are taken collectively, which means that each Federal Councillor has as much power as the others.
The idea behind this structure is to promote collaboration and consensus. Instead of one person making decisions unilaterally, the Swiss system encourages dialogue and compromise. This is another feature that distinguishes the Swiss system from more traditional presidential and parliamentary systems. At the same time, the fact that power is shared between seven people can also make the decision-making process more complex and slower. It is also more difficult to attribute responsibility for decisions to a single person or party. Also, the fact that the Federal Council is made up of members of different parties, in accordance with the tradition of concordance, means that the members of the government may have very different points of view on certain issues. This can sometimes complicate decision-making and require substantial compromises.
The Swiss political system is characterised by its collegiate system within the Federal Council. The seven members of the Federal Council are equal in status and power, and none of them can impose his or her will on the others. Decisions are taken by majority vote, and each member of the Council has the right to participate in these decisions, regardless of the nature of the issue, whether or not it falls within his or her department. This collegiate system differs markedly from presidential systems, where power is concentrated in the hands of the president, and parliamentary systems, where the prime minister generally has more power than the other members of the government.
In Switzerland, the President of the Confederation is elected from among the members of the Federal Council for a one-year term, but this position is largely symbolic and does not confer any additional power on its holder. The President of the Confederation is not the head of state in the sense used in other political systems, but rather a "primus inter pares", i.e. the first among equals. This non-hierarchical system is designed to encourage consensus and collaboration between the different political parties represented in government. It also reflects the values of direct democracy and participation that lie at the heart of the Swiss political system.
The office of President of the Swiss Confederation is largely symbolic. The President of the Confederation has no more powers than his or her colleagues in the Federal Council. The role of the President is mainly to chair the meetings of the Federal Council and to represent the country at official ceremonies, both nationally and internationally. The Presidency rotates, meaning that each year a new member of the Federal Council is elected to this position by his or her peers. Selection is generally made on the basis of seniority, with each Federal Councillor having the right to accede to the Presidency after serving a certain number of years on the Council. This system ensures that power remains balanced between all members of the government, avoiding the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. This reflects the collegiate approach to governance that lies at the heart of the Swiss political system, encouraging consensus and collaboration between the different political parties.
The principle of collegiality is an essential feature of the Swiss political system. It is an unwritten rule that once a decision has been taken within the Federal Council, all members of the government are obliged to support it publicly, regardless of whether they voted for or against the original decision. This means that even if a Federal Councillor disagreed with a decision when it was taken, he or she is expected to defend that decision before parliament, the media and the public once it has been formally adopted by the Council. This rule serves to maintain unity within the government and to reinforce the legitimacy of decisions taken by the Federal Council. In practice, however, there may be differences over the strict application of this principle of collegiality, particularly when political issues are particularly controversial or polarising. Board members may sometimes publicly disagree with decisions taken, although this is generally regarded as a departure from the norm.
The term "directorial system" is often used to describe the Swiss government, mainly because of its collegiate structure and the way in which power is distributed equally between the members of the Federal Council. The original inspiration for this system came from the Directoire of the French Revolution in 1791, where executive power was shared between five directors. However, whereas the French Directoire was short-lived and ultimately unstable, the directorial system in Switzerland has proved its durability and stability since its establishment in 1848, with over 170 years of operation to date. This system has maintained a balance of power and ensured that no individual voice is more powerful than any other in government, helping to underpin Switzerland's consensual and stable political system.
Implications of Federal Elections in the Swiss System[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
In a traditional parliamentary system, general elections often have a direct impact on the composition of the government, as the party or coalition that wins a majority in parliament is usually invited to form the government. Voters therefore have a direct influence on the formation of the government when they cast their votes in parliamentary elections. In the Swiss system, however, there is no such direct connection. The Federal Council is elected by the Federal Assembly, not directly by the people, and the custom of concordance means that the main political parties are generally represented in government, whatever the outcome of the elections. This is not to say that parliamentary elections are unimportant in Switzerland - they determine the composition of parliament, which has many important responsibilities, including the election of the Federal Council. However, the direct link between the electorate's vote and the composition of the government is not as strong as in other parliamentary systems.
The system of co-optation between the political parties in Switzerland has created a certain stability in the composition of the government. The "magic formula" (Zauberformel), established in 1959, was used to distribute the seven seats in the Federal Council between the country's four main political parties. This formula was adjusted once in 2003, but it has essentially maintained a stable composition of government for many years, regardless of changes in the political balance of power after parliamentary elections. This gives Switzerland a unique character in terms of governance and political decision-making. Consensus and collaboration between political parties are favoured over electoral competition for a majority. In this way, all the country's main political forces are represented in government and have a voice in policy decisions, which contributes to remarkable political stability.
In the Swiss political system, parliamentary elections have no direct impact on the composition of the government, unlike many other political systems where the party or coalition of parties with the majority in parliament generally forms the government. In Switzerland, the government, the Federal Council, is formed according to a system of concordance, with seats allocated to the main political parties, and this composition remains relatively stable regardless of the results of parliamentary elections. This may indeed help to explain why voter turnout in Switzerland is relatively low compared with other countries. Voters may perceive that their vote has a limited impact on the composition of government and therefore, potentially, on national policy. However, it is important to note that Swiss voters also have many other opportunities to express their views on specific issues thanks to the country's system of direct democracy, which allows referendums to be held on many issues.
This graph shows the composition of the Federal Council since 1959.
The "magic formula" ("Zauberformel" in German) is the term used to describe the traditional composition of the Swiss Federal Council from 1959 to 2003. This formula guaranteed a balance of power between the country's main political parties. It was as follows:
- Christian Democratic Party (CVP): 2 seats
- Radical Democratic Party (FDP), now the Liberal-Radical Party (FDP): 2 seats
- Swiss Socialist Party (PSS): 2 seats
- Swiss People's Party (SVP): 1 seat
This distribution reflected the proportional representation of the four main Swiss parties in the Federal Council. Although the Swiss government is a college with no hierarchy, there was a degree of predictability thanks to the "magic formula". However, this formula was disrupted in 2003 when the SVP, which had become the party with the most votes, won a second seat at the expense of the CVP.
The "magic formula" reflected the relative stability of political forces in Switzerland during this period. Although there were variations in the percentages of votes each party received in parliamentary elections, these were generally not large enough to warrant a change in the composition of the Federal Council. That said, the application of the "magic formula" was not simply a question of the proportionality of votes. It also reflected a political will to maintain a certain stability and a balanced representation of the different political forces within the government. It was this stability that enabled Switzerland to maintain a relatively consensual and stable political system for much of the second half of the 20th century. However, as mentioned earlier, the "magic formula" was changed in 2003, marking a significant evolution in Swiss politics.
With a significant increase in its parliamentary representation, the Swiss People's Party (SVP) gained increasing importance in the Swiss political landscape, becoming Switzerland's largest party in terms of votes. This situation led to a reassessment of the traditional 'magic formula', which distributed the seats on the Federal Council among the main political parties. With this in mind, it seemed logical to give the SVP a second seat to reflect its new position of strength.
Indeed, in 2003, Christoph Blocher, leader of the Swiss People's Party (SVP), entered the government. This appointment was a significant moment in Swiss political history, not only because it represented the rise to power of the SVP, but also because it brought about a change in the 'magic formula' that had prevailed for several decades. Christoph Blocher was known for his controversial political style and right-wing populist agenda, leading some observers to question the impact of his entry into government on Switzerland's tradition of consensus. The ousting of Federal Councillor Ruth Metzler-Arnold from the CVP, who was not re-elected, was another landmark moment, marking the first time since 1872 that an outgoing member of the government had not been re-elected. Since then, the composition of the Federal Council has continued to evolve, reflecting changes in the Swiss political landscape.
Members of the Federal Council in Switzerland are elected for four-year terms by the Federal Assembly, which is made up of the National Council and the Council of States. Once in office, they cannot be removed during their term. However, after four years, the Federal Assembly has the power not to re-elect a member of the Federal Council for a further term. This is a very rare occurrence in Swiss political history, given the principle of stability and consensus that prevails in the country's political system. The last notable case of non-re-election occurred in 2007, when Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher of the SVP was not re-elected by the Federal Assembly, and was replaced by Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
The non-renewal of a Federal Councillor's term of office in Switzerland is a rare event that runs counter to the Swiss political system's tradition of stability and consensus. In 2003, the election of Christoph Blocher to replace Ruth Metzler-Arnold marked a turning point in Swiss political history. It was the first time since 1897 that a sitting Federal Councillor had not been re-elected. This unwritten tradition of almost automatic re-election of members of the Federal Council reflects the importance of stability and continuity in the Swiss political system. But this case also shows that the Swiss parliament can decide not to re-elect a federal councillor if it considers this to be in the interests of the country.
In December 2007, the Federal Assembly decided not to re-elect Christoph Blocher to the Federal Council. To everyone's surprise, it instead elected another SVP member, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who was much less controversial than Blocher. This decision caused a crisis within the SVP. The party decided to exclude Widmer-Schlumpf and her Grisons cantonal party from the SVP. In response, Widmer-Schlumpf and several other SVP members founded a new party, the Bourgeois Democratic Party (PBD). It is also interesting to note that, although the Swiss parliament has the option of not re-electing a member of the Federal Council, this is a fairly rare occurrence. The two cases of non-re-election of Christoph Blocher in 2007 and Ruth Metzler-Arnold in 2003 are the only ones since 1943. This respect for the tradition of re-election reflects the Swiss political system's desire for stability and consensus.
In 2007, the Swiss parliament decided not to re-elect the controversial Christoph Blocher, but chose to retain two seats for the SVP, the country's largest party in terms of electoral support. However, instead of Blocher, parliament chose to elect Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, a more moderate SVP figure. This decision caused a crisis within the SVP. Blocher and his supporters regarded the decision as a betrayal and expelled Widmer-Schlumpf and her cantonal party from the SVP. In response, Widmer-Schlumpf and several other moderate SVP members founded a new party, the Bourgeois Democratic Party (PBD). Samuel Schmid also joined this new party. As a result, although Parliament wanted to retain two seats for the SVP, in practice these seats were filled by members of a new party. This episode illustrates both the stability and the evolution of the Swiss political system. On the one hand, Parliament has maintained the tradition of representing the main parties in the Federal Council. On the other, it has also shown that it can act to avoid controversial figures and maintain the Swiss political consensus.
Parliament's decision to elect Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf instead of Christoph Blocher was seen as a betrayal by the SVP leadership. The SVP therefore decided to exclude Widmer-Schlumpf and Samuel Schmid, the other SVP member of the Federal Council, from the party. As a result, although there were officially two SVP members of the Federal Council, they were no longer recognised as such by their own party. This situation highlighted the tensions within the SVP between a more radical wing, led by Blocher, and a more moderate wing, represented by figures such as Widmer-Schlumpf and Schmid. Following their expulsion from the SVP, the latter chose to found a new party, the Bourgeois Democratic Party (PBD), which has become a new political force in Switzerland. This situation also highlighted the importance of consensus in the Swiss political system. Although Parliament wanted to maintain proportional representation of the main parties in the Federal Council, it also sought to avoid controversial figures who could disrupt the political consensus.
The Federal Assembly's decision not to re-elect Christoph Blocher was seen by the SVP as an attempt to marginalise the party's political mainstream, which was strongly influenced by Blocher's positions. The SVP was characterised by its strongly nationalist, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic rhetoric, which contrasted with the more moderate and centrist tendencies of most other Swiss political parties. The exclusion of Widmer-Schlumpf and Schmid, who were seen as more moderate, was therefore seen as an affront to the democratic will of the party and its voters. This situation eventually led to the creation of the Bourgeois Democratic Party (PBD), a more moderate political formation, which was created by Widmer-Schlumpf and other SVP members who had been excluded or who no longer felt part of the party's hard line. The PBD thus represented a new dynamic in the Swiss political landscape, adding a new element to the already complex system of consensual governance in Switzerland.
The SVP declared that it no longer saw itself as part of the government and positioned itself as an opposition party for a time. However, following the departure of Samuel Schmid in 2009 and his replacement by Ueli Maurer, a member of the SVP mainstream, the party officially returned to government. The creation of the Bourgeois Democratic Party (PBD) in 2008 was a direct consequence of these events. The PBD was born of a split within the UDC, following the exclusion of the cantonal sections of Grisons and Berne by the UDC. These cantonal sections were the home sections of Éveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Samuel Schmid, who were considered too moderate for the SVP. The PBD is therefore a new political formation that positions itself more to the centre than the UDC, embodying a more moderate and pro-European current.
The SVP declared that it no longer considered itself part of the government and for a time positioned itself as an opposition party. However, following the departure of Samuel Schmid in 2009 and his replacement by Ueli Maurer, a member of the SVP mainstream, the party officially rejoined the government. The creation of the Bourgeois Democratic Party (PBD) in 2008 was a direct consequence of these events. The PBD was born of a split within the UDC, following the exclusion of the cantonal sections of Grisons and Berne by the UDC. These cantonal sections were the home sections of Éveline Widmer-Schlumpf and Samuel Schmid, who were considered too moderate for the SVP. The PBD is therefore a new political formation that positions itself more to the centre than the SVP, embodying a more moderate and pro-European current.
The composition of the Federal Council in Switzerland is generally fairly stable and changes take place gradually, with only one or two seats usually at stake at each renewal. This is due to the unique structure of the Swiss political system, which is based on a coalition government rather than a more traditional two-party system. In this context, the principle of "consensual competition" governs the political landscape, meaning that the main political parties strive to work together to govern rather than compete for power. In addition, the Federal Council is elected by parliament, not directly by the people. So while parliamentary elections are important, their influence on the composition of the Federal Council is indirect and often limited. This may explain why turnout at parliamentary elections in Switzerland is relatively low compared with other countries. Swiss citizens may feel that their vote has less impact on the overall political landscape, as the government remains largely stable regardless of the outcome of the election.
In Switzerland, continuity and stability are key features of political governance, due to the nature of its system of government. The Swiss government, in particular the Federal Council, is based on a coalition of a variety of parties. This is to ensure that different perspectives are represented in government, thus avoiding major radical changes following elections. In contrast, in more polarised political systems, such as in the UK or the US, there is often an alternation of governance between parties of the left and the right. This can lead to more radical and dramatic political changes when one party takes power following an election. This coalition system in Switzerland therefore favours moderation, stability and consensus rather than polarisation. However, it can also contribute to a lower level of mobilisation during parliamentary elections, as voters perceive that their vote has less immediate impact on the country's politics.
In Switzerland, the arithmetical concordance system aims to ensure that the political forces are fairly represented in government according to their representation in parliament. In other words, the number of seats a party holds in the Federal Council is generally proportional to its strength in parliament. As a result of this system, the SVP, as the party with the largest number of seats in parliament, successfully claimed a second seat on the Federal Council. This is a good example of how this system works to ensure proportional representation in the Swiss government.
In Switzerland, concordance goes far beyond the simple proportional distribution of seats in government. It is also a principle of political conduct. A party that joins the Federal Council is considered a "government party" and undertakes to act accordingly. This implies taking an active and constructive part in the conduct of government business, supporting decisions taken collectively, even when they do not entirely correspond to their partisan programme. This is one of the distinctive features of the Swiss political system: concordance fosters a political culture of consensus and cooperation between the parties in government, rather than confrontation and opposition as may be the case in other political systems. The aim is to ensure political stability and more harmonious decision-making.
The concordance system in Switzerland has been put to the test in recent years, with the emergence of more polarised and less conciliatory political positions. The SVP and the SP are two examples of parties that have often taken positions opposed to those of the government, despite their participation in it. This poses challenges for the Swiss concordance system, which is based on the idea of government consensus. The increasing polarisation of political positions, combined with the persistence of an arithmetical concordance, makes it increasingly difficult to maintain this tradition of consensus and governmental cooperation. However, even in this context, Swiss politics continues to be characterised by a relatively high degree of stability and predictability, particularly in comparison with other political systems. The future will tell whether this system will be able to adapt and evolve in the face of these new challenges.
The direct democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Direct democracy is one of the flagship institutions of the Swiss political system and also a distinctive feature of the Swiss political system. The tools of direct democracy in Switzerland, such as the popular initiative and the referendum, give citizens an important role in the legislative process. They have the opportunity to initiate legislation, propose constitutional amendments and express their opinion on a range of important political issues. This system of direct democracy gives citizens a certain amount of power over national policy, far beyond what is common in most other democracies. Decisions are often taken by popular vote, which encourages active citizen participation and direct involvement in politics.
Researchers have compiled an inventory of all the popular votes held throughout the world at national level during the 20th century, and half of them took place in Switzerland. In other words, the Swiss people have voted in direct democracy at national level as many times as all the other countries put together. In Switzerland, direct democracy is a fundamental component of the political system, giving the people significant control over legislation and constitutional changes. The main tool of direct democracy in Switzerland is the referendum, which can be either compulsory (for certain constitutional issues) or optional (when a certain number of citizens sign a petition to challenge a law passed by parliament). In addition, the popular initiative allows citizens to propose amendments to the Constitution, which are then put to a national vote.
As a result, it is common practice in Switzerland to hold several votes each year on a wide range of subjects, from tax policy to social issues and constitutional changes. This contrasts with many other countries where direct democracy is much less prevalent, and where most political decisions are taken by elected representatives rather than directly by the people. The large number of votes in Switzerland therefore reflects its unique system of direct democracy, which gives citizens a more active role in the political process than in most other countries. This gives an idea of the importance of the development of direct democracy in Switzerland.
Direct democracy is also present in certain regions of the United States, notably California. This political system allows citizens to propose legislation (through initiatives) or request a vote on existing legislation (through referendums). California is particularly well known for its frequent use of these tools of direct democracy, which have had a significant impact on the state's politics. However, it is important to note that although some US states use forms of direct democracy, they do not do so to the same degree as Switzerland at a national level. Switzerland differs in that direct democracy is integrated into all levels of its political system - from the communal to the national level. What's more, in Switzerland these tools of direct democracy are used for a wide range of issues, from constitutional amendments to more general policy questions. This is a unique feature of the Swiss political system, giving it a leading role in the use of direct democracy.
Direct democracy in Switzerland enables citizens to participate actively in the legislative process and in the formulation of public policy. This is done mainly through two mechanisms: popular initiatives and referendums. A popular initiative allows citizens to propose a change to the constitution. If the initiative gathers the required number of signatures (100,000 signatures within 18 months), it is put to the vote of the people and the cantons. A referendum can be either optional or mandatory. An optional referendum can be triggered by the collection of 50,000 signatures within 100 days of the publication of a legislative act. A mandatory referendum concerns certain important decisions, such as changes to the constitution or membership of collective security organisations or supranational communities. This active participation of citizens has several consequences. Firstly, it allows citizens to be more involved in political decision-making. Secondly, it forces politicians to take account of citizens' opinions when formulating policy. In addition, it can contribute to greater government transparency and accountability.
The popular initiative, the mandatory referendum and the optional referendum are the three main instruments of direct democracy at federal level in Switzerland:
- Popular initiative: As you said, this mechanism allows a group of citizens to propose a change to the Constitution. If the initiative gathers 100,000 signatures within 18 months, it is put to a popular vote and must be approved by a majority of the people and the cantons.
- In Switzerland, a mandatory referendum is a form of voting that is triggered when there are proposed changes to the Constitution. These changes may be initiated by the government or parliament. Once a proposal to amend the Constitution has been made, it must be put to a popular vote. To be adopted, the proposal must win the approval of a double majority, i.e. a majority of the people (more than 50% of the votes cast in the vote) and a majority of the cantons (more than half of the Swiss cantons must vote in favour of the proposal). This means that Swiss citizens have a direct and active role in shaping their country's constitution, which is quite unique compared to many other countries where the constitution can only be changed by elected legislators or through special processes involving both government and parliament.
- the optional referendum applies to any law passed by parliament. This type of referendum is an instrument of direct democracy that allows citizens to challenge laws passed by parliament. If a group of citizens do not agree with a law passed by parliament, they can form a referendum committee, and if they manage to collect 50,000 signatures in favour of the referendum within 100 days, the law is then put to a popular vote. Unlike a mandatory referendum, which requires a double majority (of the people and the cantons) to pass, in the case of an optional referendum, a simple majority of voters is sufficient for the law to be rejected. This process gives a great deal of power to Swiss citizens, who can thus exercise direct control over the actions of Parliament. It is a key element of Switzerland's system of direct democracy.
Switzerland stands out from the rest of the world for its highly developed system of direct democracy. Unlike many other countries, where citizens participate only indirectly in decision-making through the election of representatives, in Switzerland the people have the opportunity to participate directly in decision-making on specific issues. This is done through popular initiatives and referendums, which allow citizens to propose changes to the constitution (popular initiatives) or to challenge laws passed by parliament (referendums). This capacity for co-decision gives Swiss citizens a more active and direct role in the legislative process than in most other democracies.
Switzerland offers its citizens a level of democratic engagement that goes far beyond the election of political representatives in general elections. As well as electing their representatives to government, Swiss citizens also have the opportunity to vote on a number of specific issues through direct democracy. This combination of representative and direct democracy is unique. In most other countries, national elections are the main means by which citizens can influence the direction of government policy. These elections generally take place every four to five years and allow citizens to choose their political representatives. However, once these representatives have been elected, they generally have considerable latitude to make political decisions until the next election. In Switzerland, however, citizens have much more direct control over specific policies through direct democracy. Through popular initiatives and referendums, citizens can propose or challenge specific laws, giving them a direct influence on legislation. This means that as well as choosing their political representatives, Swiss citizens also have a direct and active role in shaping policy.
What does this mean?
The first consequence is that direct democracy competes with elections. In a system of direct democracy such as Switzerland's, elections are not the only way for citizens to express their views on specific political issues. Instead, citizens have many opportunities to make their voices heard through initiatives and referendums. This means that elections, while important, are only one of many mechanisms through which citizens can influence policy. This plurality of democratic tools gives citizens a stronger and more direct voice in government. It can also have the effect of reducing the importance of elections as the sole indicator of public opinion. In many other countries, elections are often seen as a referendum on government performance. In Switzerland, however, government performance can also be assessed through a variety of initiatives and referendums. As a result, direct democracy in Switzerland offers a much more nuanced and flexible system for assessing and responding to public opinion than in countries that rely primarily on elections to measure public sentiment.
Secondly, and more concretely, direct democracy has the consequence of increasing the number of popular votes. The multitude of voting opportunities in Switzerland, including elections and various forms of referendum, can reduce participation in parliamentary and other elections. Citizens may feel overwhelmed by the frequency of ballots or may feel that their vote is more effective or relevant when there is a specific issue at stake that affects them directly. It should also be noted that voter turnout in Switzerland is generally lower than in many other democratic countries. This may in part be due to the fact that Swiss citizens have many opportunities to express themselves politically, which may make individual elections less crucial. However, even though voter turnout may be relatively low, this does not necessarily mean that Swiss citizens are less politically engaged. They may simply choose to engage more selectively, taking part in ballots that deal with issues they consider particularly important.
Switzerland's direct democracy gives citizens a great deal of control over political and legislative decisions. Through referendums and popular initiatives, citizens have the power to reject or propose laws and constitutional amendments. This mechanism can be seen as a form of "correction" of decisions taken by Parliament and other elected authorities. This means that elections are not the only way for Swiss citizens to influence politics. Even if a party or candidate they do not approve of is elected, they still have the opportunity to challenge laws and political decisions through these mechanisms of direct democracy. However, while this may reduce the importance of parliamentary elections, it does not mean that they are unimportant. Elected MPs still have an important role to play in shaping legislation and decision-making at national level. In addition, political parties are often behind initiatives and referendums, so it is important for voters to support parties that represent their views and interests.
Federalism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Federalism has several forms of influence on elections.
The Swiss federal system gives rise to a bicameral legislature, comprising two distinct chambers:
- The National Council (Nationalrat/Conseil national): this is the lower house of the Swiss Parliament. It is often described as the "people's chamber" because its members are elected directly by the Swiss people. Representation in the National Council is proportional to the population of each canton. In 2021, there will be 200 members of the National Council.
- The Council of States (Ständerat/Conseil des États): this upper chamber is sometimes referred to as the "chamber of the cantons". Each Swiss canton, regardless of its size or population, is represented by two councillors of state (with the exception of the half-cantons, which each have a single representative). In 2021, the Council of States will have 46 members.
These two chambers form the Swiss Federal Assembly (Bundesversammlung/Federal Assembly). They are both involved in the legislative process and must agree on an identical version of any legislation before it can be passed. This bicameral system is designed to ensure fair representation of both the Swiss population (through the National Council) and the Swiss cantons (through the Council of States). This is a fundamental feature of the Swiss federal system, which aims to balance the interests of the various parts of the confederation.
The Swiss bicameral system is considered to be an example of "perfect" or "symmetrical" bicameralism, as both chambers of parliament - the National Council (lower house) and the Council of States (upper house) - have the same power to legislate and must agree on the same text before a law can be passed. This system contrasts with "imperfect" or "asymmetrical" bicameralism, where one chamber has more power or influence than the other. In the UK, for example, the House of Commons has far more power than the House of Lords. In Switzerland, if the National Council and the Council of States cannot agree on the text of a bill, a conciliation procedure is set up. A conciliation committee, made up of members of both chambers, is then formed to try to resolve the differences. If the committee reaches an agreement, the compromise text must then be approved by both houses before it can become law. This system ensures that the interests of all the cantons and the Swiss population as a whole are taken into account in the legislative process, thereby reinforcing Switzerland's federalist principle.
In Switzerland, the National Council (chamber of the people) and the Council of States (chamber of the cantons) have equal powers in the legislative process. All bills, constitutional amendments and federal decrees must be passed by both chambers. This means that no legislation can be passed unless both chambers agree on the same text. If they cannot agree, a conciliation committee made up of members of both chambers is set up to try to find a compromise. This system of perfect bicameralism reinforces Switzerland's federalist principle, ensuring that the interests of all the cantons and the population as a whole are taken into account in the legislative process.
The National Council is the lower house of the Swiss Parliament and is considered to be the "people's chamber" because its members are elected directly by the people. There are 200 seats in the National Council, which are distributed among the Swiss cantons according to their population. The larger the population of a canton, the more seats it has. For example, the canton of Zurich, which is the most populous canton in Switzerland, has the largest number of seats, currently 35. The canton of Geneva, which also has a large population, has 11 seats. Less populous cantons, such as Neuchâtel, have fewer seats. The smallest cantons have just one seat. This system ensures proportional representation of the Swiss population in the National Council, and allows all regions of the country to have a voice in the legislative process.
The Council of States is the upper chamber of the Swiss Parliament and is sometimes referred to as the "chamber of the cantons". There are 46 seats in the Council of States, with each canton having two representatives and each half-canton having one representative. This means that each canton, regardless of its population, is equally represented in the Council of States. This distribution of seats ensures that the interests of all cantons, large and small, are taken into account in the legislative process. However, this system can actually lead to an over-representation of small cantons. For example, the canton of Zurich, Switzerland's most populous, has only two seats on the Council of States, while the canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden, one of Switzerland's smallest cantons, also has two seats. This means that each representative from Appenzell Innerrhoden represents far fewer people than each representative from Zurich. This over-representation can have political implications, as it can give smaller cantons more power in the legislative process.
The Swiss federal system as we know it today was established by the Federal Constitution of 1848. Prior to this date, Switzerland was a loose confederation of independent cantons. When the Federal Constitution was drawn up, a balance had to be struck between the interests of the various cantons. In order to balance the interests of the larger, more populous cantons with those of the smaller ones, it was decided that each canton would have equal representation in the upper house of parliament, the Council of States, regardless of its size or population. This was intended to protect the interests of the smaller cantons, which might have been overshadowed by the larger cantons in a purely proportional system. At the same time, the lower house of parliament, the National Council, would be based on proportional representation, giving the more populous cantons greater influence. This bicameral structure is intended to ensure that all regions of Switzerland have a voice in the legislative process, and reflects the country's respect for federalism and regional diversity.
Swiss federalism plays a crucial role in the country's bicameral system. This system allows Switzerland's different regions and cantons to have an equal say in national affairs, while respecting their autonomy and diversity. Switzerland's "perfect bicameralism", where both chambers have equal prerogatives, is quite unique. In many other countries with a bicameral system, the upper and lower houses do not have the same power. In the United States, for example, certain issues, such as the impeachment of the President, can only be dealt with by the House of Representatives, while others, such as the ratification of treaties, can only be dealt with by the Senate. However, in Switzerland, both the National Council and the Council of States must approve constitutional amendments, federal laws and federal decrees, thus ensuring that the interests of the various cantons are properly taken into account. This reflects Switzerland's commitment to federalism and its desire to maintain a balance between the interests of the different cantons.
The Swiss political structure is profoundly influenced by its system of federalism, which is also reflected in the organisation of political parties. Political parties in Switzerland often have deep cantonal and regional roots, which means that their identity and political platform can vary considerably from canton to canton. For example, the Liberal-Radical Party (FDP), the Christian Democratic Party (CVP), the Swiss People's Party (SVP) and the Socialist Party of Switzerland (SPS) all have cantonal branches with their own organisational structures and political agendas. These parties may have different political positions and priorities in different cantons, depending on the specific needs and preferences of the local population. This can lead to substantial political diversity, not only between different cantons, but also within the political parties themselves. In addition, this system encourages local political participation and allows policies to be tailored more closely to the specific needs of different regions of Switzerland. This illustrates another way in which federalism influences Swiss politics, by allowing political diversity and flexibility that would be less possible in a more centralised system.
The political diversity between the different Swiss cantons has a significant impact on the national political landscape. Each canton has its own political dynamic, reflecting the unique socio-economic and cultural characteristics of the region, as well as distinct political preferences. Political parties themselves are often organised on a cantonal basis, with a variety of parties represented in each canton. This diversity results in a fragmented national political landscape, as no two cantons have exactly the same distribution of political forces. This means that the Swiss political landscape is characterised by a wide variety of parties, reflecting a wide range of interests and viewpoints. This can make the formation of coalition governments more complex, as it may be necessary to negotiate between a large number of parties with divergent interests. At the same time, it means that the Swiss political system is able to represent a wide variety of interests and perspectives, which can foster political inclusion and democratic legitimacy. This is a key element of the consensual nature of Swiss politics, where decisions are often taken through compromise between a wide range of political parties.
The Swiss political system, with its strong decentralisation and federalism, allows a multitude of local parties to make their voices heard at national level. Parties that can mobilise significant support in a specific canton can obtain representation on the National Council, even if they are not active or do not have much support in the rest of the country. This feature of the Swiss political system increases the diversity of voices and interests represented at national level. By allowing local parties to have a presence on the national political stage, the Swiss system ensures a more comprehensive and diverse representation of Swiss citizens. This contributes to the ability of the Swiss political system to reflect and take into account a variety of views and interests. However, it can also lead to fragmentation of the political landscape, making it more difficult to form stable majorities. Parties often have to form coalitions to govern, which requires compromise and negotiation between parties with sometimes very different points of view. Nevertheless, this is inherent in the nature of Swiss direct democracy and federalism, which value the representation and expression of diverse viewpoints.
Switzerland's federal structure allows strong local parties to gain representation at national level, even if they only have a significant presence in one canton. This reflects the commitment of the Swiss political system to ensuring diverse representation and taking account of different local voices at national level. An example of this is the Mouvement Citoyens Genevois (MCG). The MCG is a Geneva-based political party founded in 2005. Although it is mainly active in Geneva, the MCG has managed to win a seat on the National Council, enabling it to represent Geneva's interests at national level. The Lega dei Ticinesi, active only in the canton of Ticino, is another example of a local party that has succeeded in establishing itself at national level. Founded in 1991, the Lega dei Ticinesi has also managed to win seats in the federal parliament, enabling Ticino to be represented in Berne. A third example is the Federal Democratic Union (UDF), a conservative Swiss political party with a significant presence in only a few German-speaking cantons. Founded in 1975, the UDF is also represented in the federal parliament in Berne, once again underlining the diversity of voices represented at national level. Finally, the Parti Évangélique (PEV), a Swiss political party of Christian inspiration, also has seats in Berne. Although mainly active in the German-speaking cantons, the EPV is represented at national level, reflecting the willingness of the Swiss political system to give voice to a variety of opinions and values. These parties demonstrate how the Swiss political system values local and regional interests and ensures that they are represented at national level. The ability of these parties to gain national representation depends, however, on their ability to mobilise significant support in their respective cantons.
In Switzerland, the country's federal structure has played a significant role in the development of the political landscape. Historically, national political parties arose from the unification of various cantonal parties, which then extended their influence throughout the country. Even today, some of these national parties are largely influenced by their cantonal sections, reflecting the diversity and complexity of the Swiss political landscape. However, the federal nature of Swiss politics has one major consequence: it can weaken the internal coherence of political parties. The diversity of political interests and concerns across the cantons can make it difficult for a party to adopt a uniform line on a number of issues. Each cantonal section may have its own priorities, reflecting the specificities of the region it represents. This can lead to differences of opinion and policy within the same party, making internal cohesion more difficult to maintain. As a result, Swiss political parties can sometimes appear less unified and less organised than their counterparts in countries with a more centralised political structure. This has the effect of reducing the internal coherence of political parties.
The diversity of regional political contexts in Switzerland has a significant impact on the nature and positioning of political parties across the country. A striking example is the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). In Valais, the CVP is a majority, even hegemonic party, which tends to align itself with right-wing positions. It is a cross-class party that largely dominates the regional political scene. In Geneva, on the other hand, the PDC is a minority party, with only 12-13% of the electorate. It is more centrist, positioning itself closer to the Valais Socialist Party than to the Valais PDC. So, although it is the same party, the specific political and historical context of each canton strongly influences its position and role in the political landscape. This heterogeneity is then reflected at national level, where there is a wide variety of parties and political positions. This diversity is a key feature of the Swiss political system, which is strongly influenced by its federal structure and the diversity of regional contexts across the country.
In Switzerland, the division of electoral constituencies follows the country's federal structure, meaning that each canton represents an electoral constituency. Elections are therefore held at cantonal level, with each canton having its own electoral rules and systems, and the results of these cantonal elections help to shape the political landscape at national level. This structure reflects the importance of federalism in Switzerland, where each canton has a great deal of autonomy and plays an important role in national politics. In Switzerland, federal elections are decided not only by national policy issues, but also by issues specific to each canton. This is due to the federal nature of Switzerland, where each canton has a certain degree of autonomy and may have different concerns from the other cantons. In an election, therefore, a political party must not only present positions on national issues, but also take into account the specific problems of each canton in which it is standing. This can lead to a situation where election campaigns can differ from canton to canton, even for the same party. This electoral approach reflects the complex and diverse nature of Switzerland, where local concerns have a significant impact on national politics. As a result, elections in Switzerland are often a combination of national and local issues.
The Swiss federal system gives the cantons a great deal of autonomy, which means that even federal elections are strongly influenced by local issues. This political system allows for a great diversity of opinions and political positions, which is reflected in the composition of the federal parliament. Each canton has its own peculiarities and problems, and these local issues can have a significant impact on the outcome of federal elections. As you said, this means that federal elections in Switzerland can be seen as a series of simultaneous cantonal elections. This may be different from what we see in other countries where national elections focus more on national or federal issues. In Switzerland, local politics have a direct influence on national politics, giving citizens a voice on issues specific to their region. This makes Switzerland an interesting case study for political scientists and researchers interested in the impact of federalism on politics.
The federalist division of electoral constituencies in Switzerland means that for a political party to gain ground at national level, it must be able to make progress in several cantons simultaneously. This configuration encourages parties to develop strategies that take account of the diversity of interests and concerns across the different cantons. Thus, a party that makes significant gains in some cantons but not in others may not see a significant increase in its representation at federal level. Losses or stagnation in some cantons may offset gains elsewhere. This has important implications for the way Swiss political parties conduct their election campaigns. They must be able to respond to specific local concerns while presenting a political platform that has a national reach. This can be a particular challenge for smaller or newer parties seeking to establish a presence at national level.
The Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC), a right-wing populist and nationalist party, has enjoyed a spectacular rise in Switzerland over the last two decades. This is a remarkable achievement given Switzerland's federalist system and the need to make progress in many cantons simultaneously to achieve a significant increase in representation at federal level. The SVP has managed to adapt to this complex system and to make substantial progress in all Swiss cantons. This demonstrates how effective their political strategy and election campaigns have been in reaching a wide range of voters across the country. The rise of the SVP has had a significant impact on the Swiss political landscape. Indeed, the SVP has become one of the country's key political players, influencing national debates on key issues such as immigration, national sovereignty and the European Union.
Federal elections in Switzerland are often seen as a collection of cantonal elections. This is because each canton serves as an electoral constituency, giving local issues significant weight in national elections. Indeed, the cantons have a great deal of autonomy and have their own governments and legislatures. They also have a great deal of influence over political, economic and social issues, which can vary from canton to canton. As a result, Swiss political parties are often faced with the task of managing diverse political agendas across the country, and adapting to specific local contexts to attract voters.
The nationalisation of elections and the political party system in Switzerland is a phenomenon that has gained momentum in recent decades. Although the cantons and local issues still play a key role, national issues and major political trends at national level have gained in importance. The Swiss political party system, while still strongly influenced by cantonal particularities, has become structured on a broader scale. The national parties are more organised and coherent than they used to be. National political issues such as immigration, the environment, the economy and foreign policy play an increasingly decisive role in elections.
The Swiss People's Party (SVP) has played an important role in the nationalisation of the Swiss political system. Its rise to power across the country has helped to unify the Swiss political landscape on a broader scale. Prior to the SVP's rise, Swiss politics was highly decentralised, with each canton having its own political dynamics. However, the growing popularity of the SVP has changed that. By gaining a foothold in every canton, even those where it was previously weak or non-existent, the SVP has helped to create a more uniform political debate across the country. This nationalisation of the Swiss political system has also helped to make elections more national. Swiss citizens are increasingly focusing on national rather than cantonal issues in elections. Although the SVP has contributed to the nationalisation of Swiss politics, federalism remains a key element of the Swiss political system, and cantonal differences continue to play an important role in Swiss politics.
The Electoral System[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
We begin with a few elements of definition, in particular asking ourselves what the electoral system is and what the expected effects of an electoral system are.
The electoral system, or voting system, is a set of rules governing the process of converting votes into seats in a legislative assembly or other representative body. It defines how votes are counted and distributed to determine which candidates or political parties win seats. These systems can vary considerably from one country to another, and even within the same country for different levels or types of elections. Depending on the electoral system used, very different electoral results can be obtained from the same votes. The voting system used can have a significant impact on the political landscape of a nation. For example, a proportional voting system may encourage a wide diversity of political parties, while a first-past-the-post or two-round system may favour the emergence of two major parties.
Key definitions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
There are two main types of electoral system: the majority system and the proportional system.
The majority system, as its name suggests, uses majority rule as the criterion for converting votes into seats. Under this system, the candidate or party that obtains the most votes in a constituency is awarded the seat or seats available in that constituency. This is a winner-takes-all system, where only the candidate or party with the most votes is represented, even if their share of the total vote is less than 50%. As a result, the majoritarian system can give disproportionate representation to the political parties with the most votes, while smaller or less popular parties may find themselves under-represented or not represented at all. This system is often criticised for this reason, as it can be less representative of the diversity of political opinions in a population. However, it is often used because it is simple to understand and tends to produce stable governments with a clear majority. In a two-round majority system, if no candidate obtains an absolute majority (more than 50% of the votes) in the first round, a second round is held between the two candidates who obtained the most votes in the first round. This system is used in many countries, including France for the presidential elections.
The aim of the majority system, which gives all seats to the majority, is to ensure governmental stability. Governments formed under this system generally have a clear majority that allows them to implement their programme without being hindered by heterogeneous coalitions or opposition minorities. This is one of the main advantages of the majoritarian system: it tends to produce strong governments that can make decisions and act effectively. However, as mentioned above, this advantage comes with the disadvantage of under-representing or not representing small parties and political minorities at all. In other words, while the majoritarian system favours governability and stability, it can also lead to less diverse and less proportional political representation. This is a trade-off that is often debated in discussions on the design of electoral systems.
The other type of system is the proportional system, which, as the name also suggests, distributes seats more or less in proportion to the votes cast. In a proportional representation system, seats are distributed in proportion to the number of votes each party has obtained. Thus, if a party obtains 30% of the votes, it should obtain around 30% of the seats. The main advantage of this system is that it offers a better representation of the diversity of political opinions among voters. Small parties that might be excluded in a majoritarian system have a chance of winning seats and participating in the legislative process. The aim of this system is to reflect as accurately as possible the diversity of political opinions within the electorate. It allows a wider variety of parties, including smaller ones, to have representation in government. It also means that election results are less likely to be dominated by one or two large parties, as can be the case in a plurality system.
The majority system is a voting method that aims to achieve a clear and strong majority. In this system, the party or coalition with the most votes wins the majority of seats. This tends to favour the larger parties, those that have a significant presence and can win a majority of votes. As a result, this system can lead to an over-representation of majority parties, offering the possibility of governing with a more homogeneous majority. The proportional system, on the other hand, takes a different approach. As its name suggests, this system aims to distribute seats in proportion to the votes cast by voters. The aim is to ensure that the votes cast by citizens are represented as faithfully as possible.
In the proportional system, seats are distributed according to the electoral balance of power at the polls. This means that the distribution of seats attempts to reflect the share of votes obtained by each party. Therefore, unlike the majority system, the proportional system tends to give a more balanced representation, even to small parties, more accurately reflecting the diversity of political preferences within the electorate. In short, while the majority system focuses on the majority criterion to allocate seats, favouring one or a few parties, the proportional system aims to distribute seats in proportion to the electoral strength of each party, as expressed in the vote. Each of these systems has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them largely depends on a country's specific political preferences and circumstances.
Duverger's Law[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Duverger's Law, formulated by the French political scientist Maurice Duverger in 1951 in his book "Les Partis politiques", is an influential theory in political science. It postulates that a country's electoral system has a major influence on its political landscape, in particular on the number of political parties.
According to Duverger, a majoritarian electoral system tends to produce a two-party political system. In other words, it favours the emergence of two large, dominant political parties. This is because in a majoritarian system, minority parties have little chance of winning seats, which encourages voters to vote for the larger, more viable parties, creating a "useful vote" dynamic. Conversely, Duverger has argued that a proportional electoral system favours a multi-party political system. Since this system allows a fairer representation of votes, it gives smaller parties a reasonable chance of winning seats, which encourages a greater diversity of political parties.
Duverger's Law establishes a direct link between the electoral system adopted in a country or region and the resulting configuration of the political landscape. The law is quite simple:
- A proportional electoral system encourages a multi-party system. This means that several parties share seats in parliament, more accurately reflecting the distribution of votes in elections.
- A majority electoral system, on the other hand, favours the major parties, or even a two-party system. It therefore offers a considerable advantage to a few major parties. Depending on the type of majority rule applied, this can even lead to a two-party system, in which only two parties dominate the political landscape.
Duverger's law therefore suggests that the choice of electoral system can have a profound impact on the composition and dynamics of the political landscape.
Duverger's law states that two specific mechanisms are at work in a majority electoral system to favour the emergence of a few major parties, or even a two-party system: a mechanical effect and a psychological effect.
- The mechanical effect: This effect refers to the way in which the majority electoral system translates votes into seats. In such a system, the party that obtains the most votes in a constituency wins the seat, regardless of whether that party obtained only 30% of the votes, for example. All votes for other parties are essentially "lost". As a result, this system tends to over-represent the parties with the most votes and under-represent the smaller parties.
- The psychological effect: This effect refers to the way in which voters anticipate the mechanical effect and modify their voting behaviour accordingly. Voters are likely to vote strategically for one of the larger parties rather than 'waste' their vote on a smaller party that has little chance of winning a seat. In this way, the majoritarian electoral system encourages a political landscape dominated by a few large parties.
The mechanical effect concerns the way in which votes are transformed into seats. With a majority system, there is a relatively high threshold to reach in order to win a seat. In other words, the system puts in place a considerable barrier that a party must overcome in order to obtain representatives. The most extreme case would be an absolute majority system, where a party has to win more than 50% of the votes to win a seat. In such a context, the large parties are at an advantage, as only these parties have the capacity to gather enough votes to cross this majority threshold.
A majority system tends to favour the large parties because of the high barrier to winning seats. This system therefore gives greater representation to parties with a broader base of support, while smaller parties, which may find it difficult to cross this threshold, are often under-represented. This over-representation of large parties and under-representation of small parties is a direct consequence of the "mechanism" inherent in the majority system.
The "winner takes all" system is a feature of the majority system. In this system, the party that obtains the most votes in a constituency wins all the seats in that constituency. So even a small lead in terms of votes can make a big difference in terms of seats. This mechanism favours major parties with a broad base of support, allowing them to win a majority of seats even if they do not win a majority of votes. This leads to over-representation of the major parties to the detriment of the smaller parties, which may win a significant percentage of the vote but not enough to win in individual constituencies. As a result, these smaller parties often find themselves under-represented in relation to their actual share of the popular vote.
In a majority electoral system, votes for small parties are often "lost" because these parties cannot reach the majority threshold necessary to win seats. This happens because, in this system, seats are awarded to the party or candidates that have obtained the most votes in a given constituency, regardless of whether or not they have an absolute majority. If a small party is not the most popular in a given constituency, then all the votes it has received in that constituency will not translate into seats. As a result, those votes are effectively "lost". This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as "vote wastage", because votes for non-winning candidates or parties have no effect on the final allocation of seats. This is the first mechanical effect, which concerns how votes are translated into seats.
The psychological effect follows directly from the mechanical effect. Voters and political parties anticipate how the majority system will work and modify their behaviour accordingly. On the political party side, smaller parties may choose not to run in certain constituencies if they feel they have no chance of winning against larger parties. Instead, they may choose to concentrate their resources in areas where they have a more realistic chance of winning seats. On the voter side, some may be reluctant to vote for a small party if they feel it is a "waste" of their vote, as that party has little chance of winning seats in a majority system. As a result, they may feel compelled to vote for a larger party, even if it is not their first choice. This phenomenon is often referred to as "strategic voting" or "useful voting". In both cases, the psychological effect helps to reinforce the predominance of the major parties in a majority system.
Small parties, anticipating their low probability of success in a majority system, may decide not to run in order to save their resources for electoral battles where they have a better chance of success. This phenomenon, known as party disinhibition, tends to reduce the number of parties in the race, thereby reinforcing the predominance of the major parties. The same reasoning applies to voters. Aware that the small parties have little chance of winning, they may decide to vote for a large party rather than their first choice in order to maximise the impact of their vote. This 'useful vote' also leads to a concentration of votes around the major parties. Thus, the psychological effect in a majoritarian system tends to reinforce the over-representation of the large parties and discourage competition from the smaller parties, contributing to a less diverse party system.
The psychological effect dissuades small parties from standing for election in a majority system because they anticipate that they will have little chance of success. This can lead to a concentration of the political landscape around a few large parties, reducing political diversity and limiting voter choice. In such a context, the majority system tends to favour stability at the expense of representativeness.
This is the "useful vote" effect that is commonly observed in majoritarian systems. Voters tend to vote for parties that have a realistic chance of winning, even if these parties are not their first choice. This is due to the fear that their vote will be "wasted" if they vote for a small party that has little chance of winning a seat. This anticipation often leads to strategic voting, where voters choose to support the big parties at the expense of the smaller ones, amplifying the psychological effect you mentioned. This further reinforces the effect of the majority system, favouring the large parties and marginalising the smaller ones.
The psychological effect of strategic or "useful" voting accentuates the tendency of the majority system to favour the big parties. Voters, anticipating that the smaller parties have little chance of winning seats, tend to vote for the larger parties, even if the latter are not necessarily their first choice. This behaviour helps to strengthen the position of the larger parties in the political system, while marginalising the smaller ones. As a result, in a majoritarian electoral system, small and medium-sized political parties have significant hurdles to overcome in order to gain meaningful representation.
Although Duverger's law provides a useful framework for understanding the influence of electoral systems on the structuring of the political landscape, it is only one aspect. Political cultures, history, economic conditions, social structures and current events are also factors that influence the political system and election results. In addition, although Duverger's law establishes a general relationship between majoritarian systems and two-party systems, and between proportional systems and multi-party systems, there are many exceptions to this rule. For example, some countries with a majoritarian system, such as Canada and India, have several strong political parties. On the other hand, countries with a proportional system, such as Israel and the Netherlands, have a large number of parties, sometimes to the point of making it difficult to form stable governments. It is therefore important to consider Duverger's law as an analytical tool, not as an absolute rule. The electoral system is a key element of any political system, but it should not be considered in isolation from the other factors that influence a country's political dynamics.
Switzerland uses a system of proportional representation for elections to the National Council (the lower house of parliament), which means that seats are allocated to parties in proportion to the number of votes they receive. This system favours a diverse political landscape with many parties. For the Council of States (the upper house of parliament), however, the situation is a little different. Each Swiss canton (with the exception of six half-cantons) sends two members to the Council of States, regardless of the number of inhabitants. In most cantons, these seats are allocated according to a majority system, which can favour the larger, more established parties. The combination of these two systems - proportional representation in the National Council and the majority system in the Council of States - helps to create a complex and diverse political landscape in Switzerland. It encourages the participation of a variety of parties, while providing a degree of stability through the representation of larger, more established parties in the Council of States.
Other Factors Influencing Proportionality in a Proportional Electoral System[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
We've talked a lot about the proportional system. As a general rule, a proportional system favours a multi-party system, but then, within the broad category of proportional systems, there is a whole series of variations and criteria that make the system more or less proportional.
Although all proportional representation systems aim to distribute seats among political parties according to the percentage of votes they receive, the exact arrangements can vary widely, and these variations can have a significant impact on the results. One of the main factors determining the "proportionality" of an electoral system is the electoral threshold. An electoral threshold is the minimum percentage of the vote that a party must obtain in order to be eligible to win seats. For example, in some countries, a party must obtain at least 5% of the vote to receive seats. Higher thresholds tend to reduce the proportionality of a system by excluding small parties. Another factor is the size of the constituencies. In proportional representation systems, each constituency elects several MPs. The larger the constituency (i.e. the more seats there are to be filled), the more proportional the system will be, as a greater number of seats means that votes can be more finely distributed. Finally, the different calculation methods used to allocate seats can also influence proportionality. Methods such as the d'Hondt or the Sainte-Laguë/Schepers methods are used to convert votes into seats, and each has its own characteristics which may favour the large parties or help the small parties. So while all proportional representation systems aim to accurately represent voters' preferences, the exact details of the system can have a significant impact on how seats are allocated.
So what other factors determine the degree of proportionality in a traditional system? The number of seats available in a legislature can affect the proportionality of the electoral system. The more seats there are, the more likely it is to have an accurate proportional representation of the votes obtained by each party. If the number of seats is very limited, parties with a significant number of votes may not be represented, which reduces the proportionality of the system. Let's take an example. Suppose we have a parliament with 5 seats and five parties stand for election, each obtaining 20%, 25%, 15%, 30% and 10% of the votes respectively. In this case, even if all the parties have obtained a significant share of the votes, not all of them will be able to be represented in the 5-seat parliament. The system is therefore less proportional than if there were more seats available. Conversely, if the same parliament had 100 seats, each party could be represented in proportion to its percentage of the vote. The party with 20% of the vote would have 20 seats, the party with 25% of the vote would have 25 seats, and so on. This gives a much more proportional representation of votes.
Another question is whether there is a legal quorum? The electoral threshold is another key factor that can influence the proportionality of an electoral system. This is a minimum percentage of votes that a party must obtain in order to be eligible for the distribution of seats. Introducing an electoral threshold can reduce the fragmentation of parliament and make it easier to form a stable government. However, it can also lead to less proportional representation. Parties that obtain fewer votes than the threshold are excluded from the distribution of seats, even if they have received significant support from the electorate. Let's take the example of an electoral threshold of 5%. If a party obtains 4.9% of the vote, it will not be allocated any seats, despite the support of a significant proportion of the electorate. This means that a proportion of the vote is not represented in parliament, which makes the system less proportional. This is why the choice of an electoral threshold is always a question of balance between the desire to ensure proportional representation and the need to maintain a stable parliament and government.
The natural quorum is the minimum number of votes a party must obtain to be eligible for a seat in a proportional system without a fixed electoral threshold. It is determined by the total number of votes and the number of seats to be filled. The formula for calculating the natural quorum is as follows: Natural quorum = (Total number of votes) / (Number of seats to be filled + 1). This natural quorum determines the minimum number of votes required to obtain a seat. For example, if we have 1000 votes in total and 10 seats to be filled, the natural quorum would be 1000 / (10 + 1) = 90.9. So a party would need at least 91 votes to win a seat.
The district magnitude is an important variable in a proportional electoral system. It refers to the number of seats available in a given district. The higher the district magnitude, the more proportional the distribution of seats will be to the votes received by each party. In fact, a constituency with a large number of seats provides better representation of the diversity of opinions expressed by voters. For example, in a constituency with 10 seats, even a party that receives 10% of the vote will be able to win a seat, thus more accurately reflecting the diversity of opinions among voters. Conversely, a low-magnitude constituency tends to reduce the proportional nature of the election. For example, in a constituency with only 2 seats, it is likely that only the two most popular parties will win a seat, leaving the smaller parties and their voters unrepresented. Switzerland is a good example of this dynamic, as it has constituencies of various magnitudes, ranging from 1 (for the half-cantons) to 35 (for the canton of Zurich). As a result, the proportional nature of the election can vary considerably from one constituency to another.
In the context of a proportional voting system, the term "natural quorum" refers to the minimum percentage of votes that a party must obtain in order to hope to win a seat in a given constituency. This natural quorum is intrinsically linked to the "constituency magnitude", i.e. the number of seats available in a constituency. The lower the magnitude (i.e. the fewer seats available), the higher the natural quorum. If, as in your example, there are only five seats available, the natural quorum would be around 16%. This means that a party must receive at least 16% of the vote to have a chance of winning a seat. This can effectively create an obstacle for smaller parties, who may find it difficult to achieve this quorum, despite the use of a proportional voting system. It is important to note that the natural quorum does not guarantee a seat; it simply provides an estimate of the minimum threshold of votes that a party must achieve to have a chance of winning a seat. In reality, the allocation of seats also depends on other factors, such as the exact distribution of votes between the parties.
Proportional systems with a high legal quorum (a minimum percentage of votes that a party must obtain in order to win a seat) and/or high natural quorums (resulting from small constituencies with a limited number of seats) may behave more like majoritarian systems. Under these conditions, the effect of proportionality is attenuated, as smaller parties find it more difficult to reach the quorum required to win seats. The larger parties therefore have an advantage, which is closer to the behaviour of a majority system where the largest parties tend to be over-represented. This is why the choice of electoral system, and the specific details of that system (number of seats per constituency, existence of legal quorums, etc.) have a considerable impact on political representation. These can influence the diversity of parties and candidates elected, the representation of minorities and the ease with which a given party can obtain a majority in power.
By increasing the quorum (the minimum number of votes a party must obtain to win a seat), the electoral system moves closer to a majority system. This increase in the quorum makes it more difficult for smaller parties to win seats, thus favouring the larger parties. So even in a system that is in theory proportional, having a high quorum or small constituencies with a limited number of seats can lead to results that more closely resemble a majority system. This illustrates how the specific details of an electoral system can have a significant impact on the political landscape. For example, in a constituency where there are only three seats to be filled, a party must obtain at least 25% of the vote to win a seat (the natural quorum of 25%). Under these conditions, smaller parties that have difficulty reaching this threshold are at a disadvantage, and the system tends to favour the larger parties.
The electoral system in Switzerland[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
In Switzerland, the electoral system for the National Council (the lower house of the Swiss federal parliament) is mainly proportional. The number of seats allocated to each canton is determined by the size of its population. However, for cantons with only one representative, the system becomes majoritarian, as the candidate with the most votes wins the only seat available. Thus, Switzerland is a good example of how an electoral system can incorporate both proportional and majoritarian elements, depending on the specific circumstances. This mix can help to balance the needs for proportional representation (to ensure that diverse perspectives are represented) and governmental stability (by favouring larger parties that are more likely to form stable governments).
In the cantons entitled to a single seat on the National Council in Switzerland, the system is de facto majority rule. The candidate who receives the most votes wins the only seat available, regardless of the margin by which he or she wins. This is what is meant by a "majority" system: the winner takes all, even if he or she does not receive an absolute majority of votes. This situation is unique to Switzerland, where the federal system and respect for the representation of the cantons in the national government have led to this combination of majority and proportional electoral systems. This ensures that even the smallest cantons have representation in the National Council, while at the same time ensuring proportional representation in the larger cantons. It is an illustration of how electoral systems can be adapted to meet the specific needs of a country or region.
Switzerland uses a proportional system to elect members of the National Council in all cantons that have more than one seat. Seats are distributed in proportion to the number of votes each party receives. Each canton is considered an electoral constituency for National Council elections, and the number of seats each canton has on the National Council is determined by its population. More populous cantons have more seats than less populous cantons. In addition to this, it is important to mention that Switzerland uses a mixed electoral system for the Council of States, the upper house of the Swiss Parliament. Each canton elects two representatives to the Council of States, with the exception of the half-cantons, which elect one representative each. The method of election for these seats varies from canton to canton, with some using a majority system, while others use a proportional system. In short, Switzerland is a good example of a complex electoral system that combines elements of both proportional and majority representation, while taking account of regional particularities.
Switzerland's proportional representation system for the National Council allows for a greater diversity of political representation. This means that a wide range of parties, even those with a smaller voter base, have the opportunity to win seats. In particular, in the larger cantons with more seats available, representation is more diverse. Parties that cannot achieve an absolute majority still have the opportunity to win seats. This encourages diversity in the points of view represented and promotes a multi-party system. On the other hand, in smaller cantons with a limited number of seats, the system can be closer to a majority system, with seats generally being won by the largest parties. Switzerland's proportional representation system allows for fair representation of diverse political views across the country, thus promoting a multi-party system.
In small cantons with only one seat, the electoral system operates on a majority basis, which tends to favour the larger parties. As there is only one seat available, competition is generally limited to a few of the largest parties in these cantons. This can lead to a narrower electoral field, as fewer parties have the opportunity to gain representation. This context encourages competition mainly between the major parties, leading to a system of governance that may appear more restricted or concentrated compared with cantons with a proportional system and a greater diversity of political representation.
In majority systems, particularly those with a single seat available, political parties can often increase their chances of success by forming coalitions or alliances with other parties. In a majority system, the "largest party strategy" is often the most effective in winning elections. Smaller parties may therefore choose to group together to increase their influence. By joining forces, they can reach a greater number of voters and thus increase their chances of winning the seat. These alliances are often based on common political ideologies or shared objectives. They can be formal, with precise agreements on policies and candidates, or informal, based on ad hoc support for certain issues or candidates. This strategy allows parties to work together to maximise their political impact in a system that generally favours the largest parties.
The two-round majority system is often used for elections to the Council of States in Switzerland. Under this system, candidates must obtain an absolute majority (more than 50% of the votes) in the first ballot to be elected. If no candidate achieves this majority, a second round is held. In the second round, the candidates who obtained the first two places in the first round are generally the ones who face each other. The second round often operates on the principle of "plurality voting", where the candidates who receive the most votes win, even if they do not achieve an absolute majority. This system is designed to ensure that elected candidates enjoy broad majority support. However, it can also lead to a two-party system, as voters can be encouraged to vote 'strategically' for one of the two main candidates to avoid their vote going to a candidate with little chance of winning. In Switzerland, it is interesting to note that although the majoritarian system is used for elections to the Council of States, the country nevertheless retains a robust multi-party system, partly due to the diversity of electoral systems used in different contexts.
Majority systems generally favour the larger parties because they need a majority (or a plurality in the second round) to win. This tends to discourage smaller parties from standing as they generally have less chance of winning. In addition, voters may be less inclined to vote for a small party for fear of 'wasting' their vote on a candidate who has little chance of winning. This phenomenon, often referred to as the 'useful vote', can further strengthen the position of the major parties.
The Swiss political system uses a combination of electoral systems, depending on the level of government and the chamber of parliament. For the National Council (the lower house), the system is generally proportional, which tends to favour a broader representation of political parties, including the smaller ones. For the Council of States (the upper house), on the other hand, a majority system is generally used. This tends to favour the largest parties, as a candidate must obtain a majority of votes to be elected. This is an interesting example of how a country can use different electoral systems to achieve different goals. The proportional system of the National Council can allow for a broader and more diverse representation of political views. On the other hand, the majority system in the Council of States can promote stability and the ability to make decisions, as it is generally easier for a small number of major parties to form a government or make decisions. This shows that there is no "best" electoral system per se, but rather that the most appropriate system depends on the specific objectives and context of a given country.
Even though the system is technically proportional in the cantons of Neuchâtel and Jura for the Council of States, the fact that there are only two seats available creates a natural quorum, meaning that a party needs to obtain almost a third of the votes to win a seat. This makes it more difficult for smaller parties to gain representation, even in a technically proportional system. This point highlights an important reality of electoral systems: the formal voting system (proportional, majority, etc.) is an important feature, but it is not the only thing that determines how votes are translated into seats. Other factors, such as the number of seats available, the number of candidates running, and even non-electoral factors such as local political culture, can also play a significant role. Ultimately, the electoral system of a country or region is often the product of its unique political history, as well as the specific objectives it seeks to achieve in terms of political representation.
The consequences of the electoral system[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
What are the consequences of these two types of ballot, of these two chambers that are elected according to a system that is so different in one chamber from the other?
The consequences can be seen visually. If we accept that this projection is faithful to reality, the SVP will clearly dominate the National Council, with 29% of the votes but 32% of the seats. It is followed by the Socialist Party, the PLR and the PDC. What is striking is the contrast between the SVP's strength in terms of seats in the National Council and its strength in terms of seats in the Council of States. Where the SVP has 32% of the seats in the National Council, it will have around 15% of the seats in the Council of States. That's a considerable contrast in parliamentary strength for one party.
This is a perfect illustration of how the electoral system can influence the distribution of seats. In a proportional representation system like that of the National Council, smaller parties can obtain greater representation. This allows the SVP, with strong popular support, to win a significant share of the seats. In contrast, under the majority system for the Council of States, only two candidates are elected per canton, which tends to favour the larger parties. Even if the UDC has significant support, it may not obtain the majority needed to win a seat in every canton. This can lead to the party being under-represented in the Council of States in relation to its level of popular support. The difference in SVP representation between the National Council and the Council of States illustrates the impact of the electoral system on the distribution of seats. It also shows how electoral systems can be designed to balance representation between different parties and regions, ensuring that no one party or region is too dominant.
The situation is reversed for the two parties of the moderate right. The PLR and the PDC have 17% and 13% respectively of the seats at national level, but 26% and 28% of the seats in the Council of States. These two parties are much stronger in terms of seats on the Council of States than they are on the National Council. These differences are largely due to the electoral system and the division into constituencies in Switzerland.
These variations in the representation of political parties between the National Council and the Council of States are mainly due to the difference in electoral systems. The proportional representation system in the National Council allows a greater number of parties, including the smaller ones, to obtain representation. However, the majority system in the Council of States favours the largest parties or those with a strong local presence. The FDP and CVP, as moderate right-wing parties, may be more likely to win a seat under this system. They may be able to attract votes from moderate voters who might not support a more right-wing party like the SVP. It is therefore a perfect illustration of how the electoral system can influence the political landscape and the distribution of seats in parliament. It also shows how factors such as constituency boundaries can have an impact on electoral outcomes. Differences between electoral systems can encourage a greater diversity of parties and viewpoints to be represented in parliament.
In a majority system like that of the Council of States, parties with more radical or polarising ideas, such as the SVP, may find it difficult to win seats. As the system requires a majority of votes to win a seat, a party that has a strong support base but not a majority may end up being under-represented. In this system, parties often have to attract a wide range of support to win a seat. This contrasts with the proportional system of the National Council, where parties can win seats in proportion to their share of the vote. Under this system, a party like the SVP can achieve relatively high representation without having to win a majority of votes. It is therefore clear that the electoral system can have a significant impact on the representation of different parties in political institutions.
Why does the SVP do so well in the National Council and so badly in the Council of States? What explains the difference in the SVP's success in the two chambers?
The UDC's strong profile and radical right-wing bias is a double-edged sword, as explained in the article Les deux principales causes de la sous-représentation de l'UDC dans les gouvernements cantonaux : un profil trop marqué et des sections insuffisamment établies by Professor Pascal Sciarini. Professor Pascal Sciarini's article highlights the fact that the SVP's strong right-wing positioning and radical profile can make it difficult to attract the broader support needed to win seats in majority systems. He also stresses the importance of local presence and the organisation of party branches in the cantons. Local branches are essential for mobilising voters, organising election campaigns and maintaining a continuous and visible party presence at local level. If these sections are not sufficiently established or organised, this can also limit the party's ability to win seats, particularly in a majoritarian system where direct local support is crucial. The case of the SVP thus illustrates the challenges that both radical and populist parties can face in political systems where broad support and local presence are key factors in winning seats of power.
In a proportional system, it is advantageous for a party to have a clearly defined profile that is distinct from other parties. This allows the party to mobilise its electoral base effectively, as voters have a clear idea of what the party stands for and what they support. In a proportional representation system, every vote counts because the number of seats a party wins is directly proportional to the percentage of votes it receives. This means that a party with a very strong profile, such as the SVP, can campaign aggressively and mobilise its voters effectively to obtain as many votes as possible. In a majority system, on the other hand, the party must be able to win a majority of votes in a given constituency in order to win seats. In this context, an overly strong profile may be less advantageous if it means that the party is unable to gather sufficient support beyond its most loyal electoral base.
In a majority system election, on the other hand, you either have to be a very large party, or you have to be able to make alliances and "cast a wide net", i.e. reach out beyond your own party. In a majority electoral system, a political party often needs to win wider support to win seats. This can mean appealing to voters beyond its most loyal support base, seeking to win votes from those who might normally support another party. This is why it can be advantageous for a party to have a more moderate or centrist policy platform in a plurality system, as this may enable it to attract a larger number of voters. Furthermore, in a majoritarian system, parties may be obliged to form coalitions or alliances with other parties in order to win a majority of seats. This may require political compromises, and hard-line parties or parties with a very strong profile may find it more difficult to find coalition partners. So while a strong political profile can be advantageous in a proportional representation system, it can be a handicap in a plurality system.
In a majority electoral system, having rigid or extreme political positions can make it difficult for a party to win seats. There are several reasons for this:
- Difficulty in attracting a broad electorate: A party with very strong positions may find it difficult to "cast a wide net", i.e. to attract voters who do not share its radical positions. In a majority system, a party generally needs to attract support well beyond its most loyal support base to win an election.
- Difficulty forming alliances: Parties that hold extreme positions or are perceived as intransigent may also find it difficult to form alliances with other parties. In many majoritarian systems, parties often have to form coalitions to win a majority of seats. If a party has very strong positions and is unwilling to compromise, it may find it difficult to find coalition partners.
- High-profile candidates: Moreover, if a party's candidates themselves have very strong positions, this can also limit their ability to win votes outside their own party. Candidates who are perceived as extreme may find it difficult to attract moderate voters, which may limit their chances of success in a majority election.
This does not mean that a party with a very strong profile cannot succeed in a majority system, but it can make success more difficult. In this context, the SVP seems to be finding it difficult to win seats on the Council of States, because of its very strong political profile.
A party like the SVP, which has a very strong profile, is not capable of "casting a wide net". It is difficult for it to form alliances because its positions are so hard-line that it gets angry with just about everyone, and so it is difficult for the other parties to form alliances with the UDC, knowing that the UDC never stops denigrating them. What's more, SVP candidates are often themselves strongly influenced by the party and so these individual candidates are not very capable of seeking support outside their own party, which severely limits their chances of success.
The two parties of the moderate right, the Liberal Radical Party and the Christian Democratic Party, are in exactly the opposite situation to the SVP. These two parties are heavily over-represented in the Council of States in relation to their actual electoral strength. The FDP has around 16% of the electorate and the CVP around 14%. They are much stronger and over-represented on the Council of States.
The Liberal Radical Party (FDP) and the Christian Democratic Party (CVP) benefit from the majority system used to elect the Council of States in Switzerland, despite the fact that they do not receive a large proportion of the votes nationwide. Here are some potential reasons for this over-representation:
- Casting a wide net: In a majority system, a party needs to "cast a wide net", i.e. attract voters from different political backgrounds in order to win. Moderate parties are generally better placed to do this, as their policy positions are likely to be more acceptable to a wider range of voters.
- Alliances: Moderate parties may also be more inclined to form alliances with other parties. This can give them an advantage in majority elections, where a majority of seats is often needed to govern.
- Moderate candidates: Candidates from moderate parties are also likely to be more attractive to a wider range of voters. In a majoritarian system, voters often have to choose the 'lesser evil' among the candidates, so moderate candidates may be more attractive to those in the centre of the political spectrum.
To sum up, the FDP and CVP, thanks to their moderation and their ability to forge alliances, seem to be able to capitalise on the majority system in place for the Council of States in Switzerland, which enables them to obtain a representation greater than their proportion of the national electorate.
The reason for this is that these two parties are favoured in a majority election; they have an advantage because they have a relatively centralist position that allows them to make alliances (1) with each other or with other parties of the moderate right, which enables these parties to present candidates who are capable of gleaning votes well beyond their own electoral camp (2). The CVP and the PDR are largely capable of forming alliances because their moderate profile is an asset when it comes to forming alliances with the centre-right and even the slightly harder right, and secondly, these parties are capable of putting forward candidates who will win votes well beyond their own party. This is a recipe for success in a majority system election.
On the other hand, these parties pay a price for this strategy when it comes to proportional elections. Because of their moderation, they struggle to stand out in a political context polarised between a hard left and a hard right. Their moderate discourse has difficulty being heard and mobilising voters in this context. This situation is exactly the opposite of that of the SVP. They struggle in proportional elections, but take full advantage of the majority system.
The difference in the success of political parties in elections to the National Council compared with the Council of States has direct implications for the legislative activity of parliament. In Switzerland, the two chambers have exactly the same prerogatives. This means that they must both agree on the same piece of legislation. No law can be passed in Switzerland until it has been approved in the same terms by both chambers. This Swiss bicameral system, in which the two chambers - the National Council and the Council of States - have the same prerogatives, is part of the concept of checks and balances, an essential element of the Swiss democratic system. This means that for a bill to be passed, it must be approved with the same content by both chambers. Each chamber examines, amends if necessary and votes on the bill. If the two chambers do not agree on the text, the bill is sent back from one chamber to the other for consideration and voting until a consensus is reached. This process is known as the parliamentary shuttle. The fact that the success of political parties varies considerably between the National Council and the Council of States therefore has major implications for legislation. For example, a political party that is well represented in the National Council but not in the Council of States may find it more difficult to pass legislation that reflects its priorities and policies. This can lead to compromises or political deadlocks. On the other hand, a party with a strong representation in both chambers could have a significant influence on legislation. This can create a situation where the minority in one chamber has blocking power over legislation, which can lead to political deadlock.
The differences in the composition of the National Council and the Council of States, with the SVP having a strong presence in the National Council and less representation in the Council of States, and the FDP and CVP having a strong presence in the Council of States but less weight in the National Council, can lead to differences in political priorities. These differences in political majorities in the two chambers can lead to tensions when the two chambers work to draft and approve legislation. In this context, the next legislature could see an increase in tensions between the two chambers. The legislation produced may reflect the different political preferences of the majorities in each chamber, which could lead to difficulties in reaching agreement on legislation. In such a situation, the parliamentary shuttle process, where the text of a bill is sent from one chamber to the other until agreement is reached, may prove more complex and time-consuming. There could be more debate and negotiation to reach a compromise that satisfies both houses. Such tensions may also have wider implications for Swiss politics, affecting the pace of the legislative process and highlighting divisions between different political forces. However, this is also part of the nature of the Swiss political system, which encourages debate, balanced representation and consensus.
The mechanisms of parliamentary shuttle, which allow a constant exchange between the two chambers, serve precisely to facilitate the search for consensus. If agreement cannot be reached, a conciliation committee may be set up to try to resolve the differences. This committee is generally made up of members of both chambers and works to propose a compromise text. However, despite these mechanisms, it is quite possible that tensions between the two chambers could lead to legislative deadlock. If the differences are too great and each chamber remains firmly attached to its position, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to reach agreement on a piece of legislation. This type of deadlock is not common in the Swiss legislative system, which generally aims for consensus and compromise. However, given the divergent composition and political preferences of the two chambers, the risk of such a situation may be increased. In such cases, the legislation in question may be put on hold or withdrawn, and further negotiations may be required to resolve the deadlock. Such situations may also prompt broader reflection on the political issues involved and how the legislative system can work better to avoid such deadlocks in the future.
Electoral systems and the rules they put in place have a profound effect on a country's political landscape. In Switzerland, where we have a perfect bicameral system, these rules have a direct and concrete impact on legislative activity. In the case of Switzerland, elections for the National Council (lower house) are conducted under a system of proportional representation, which favours diverse and balanced party representation. By contrast, elections for the Council of States (upper house) are mostly conducted under a majority system, which favours large, established parties. These different systems produce assemblies with varied political compositions. As a result, they may have different priorities, orientations and visions for the country. When it comes to legislating, these two chambers have to agree on an identical text for the law to be passed, which can lead to negotiations, compromises and even conflicts. In other words, the choice of electoral system has significant consequences for governance, legislation and politics in general. In short, Switzerland's perfect bicameralism, combined with its distinct electoral rules for each chamber, highlights the interesting and complex dynamics of politics and legislation in a democratic system.
Structure of political cleavages[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
We often hear about divides, such as the Röstigraben, which is the linguistic divide in Switzerland between French-speaking and German-speaking Switzerland, or the city-country divide. What is this?
Definition of the Political Divide[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Stefano Bartolini and Peter Mair, in their book "Identity, Competition, and Electoral Availability" (1990), defined political cleavage according to three key conditions. It is important to note that according to their perspective, all three conditions must be present for a true political cleavage to be identified:
- The empirical structural component of a political cleavage refers to tangible and observable differences within society. These differences may be based on socio-demographic, cultural, linguistic or economic characteristics. In the Swiss context, these differences are manifest in the country's linguistic and cultural diversity. For example, the distinction between the German-speaking (Alemannic) and Romansh-speaking (Romansh) populations is an observable and tangible difference. Similarly, religious differences, social class distinctions and regional differences can also be empirical markers of social or cultural cleavages. These divisions, when they translate into persistent political conflict and are associated with distinct group identities, can give rise to major political cleavages, affecting the configuration of the political landscape and the decision-making process.
- The cultural-normative component is an essential element in the formation of a political divide. It refers to distinct differences in beliefs, values and preferences between various groups within a society. These differences must be sufficiently strong and distinct to create a division or potential conflict between these groups. In the Swiss context you mention, if the German-speaking (Alemannic) and Romansh-speaking (Romansh) groups had exactly the same beliefs, values and preferences, there would be no potential for a political divide based on linguistic difference. It is the distinction in preferences and values that allows a potential divide to manifest itself. However, it is important to note that even if these two conditions - an empirical structural component and a cultural-normative component - are met, a political cleavage will not necessarily manifest itself. There is a third component necessary for the formation of a political cleavage.
- The politico-organisational component is essential to make a political divide manifest. This means that a political party or other organisation must recognise, articulate and mobilise around this divide. Without such an entity to highlight and politicise the divide, it will simply remain a latent potential with no manifest repercussions. Taking the Swiss example again, if we refer strictly to this definition, the linguistic divide does not really exist as a political divide. In fact, there is no political party or organisation in Switzerland that has explicitly set itself up to defend the interests of French-speaking Switzerland against the German-speaking majority, or vice versa. Thus, although there are empirical and cultural-normative differences between these language groups, the divide is not made manifest on the political scene. a Lega dei Ticinesi is a notable exception in this context. This political group, based in the canton of Ticino, was founded in part to defend the interests of the Italian-speaking minority in the face of centralised politics in Berne. This is a good example of how an organised entity can make a political divide manifest. However, apart from this example, it can be said that there is no linguistic divide, in the strict sense of the term, in the Swiss political landscape. Admittedly, during popular votes, the differences in preferences between the linguistic communities can become obvious, but there is no organisation or political party dedicated to articulating and mobilising around this divide. This demonstrates the extent to which the politico-organisational component is essential in transforming a potential divide into a clear political divide.
Political science literature generally distinguishes two types of cleavage: traditional cleavages and modern or recent cleavages.
- Traditional cleavages: These are generally linked to long-standing historical conflicts in society. The most common are the left-right divide, which mainly concerns economic and social issues, and the denominational divide, between Catholics and Protestants for example. In Europe, another traditional divide is between the centre and the periphery, i.e. between urban and industrialised areas and rural and agricultural areas.
- Modern or recent divisions: These cleavages have emerged more recently, as societies have become more complex and new issues have become politically important. The most notable divide is undoubtedly that between the 'winners' and 'losers' of globalisation. There is also the divide between supporters and opponents of European integration. Another example is the divide over environmental issues, with those in favour of a radical ecological transition on the one side and those more reluctant to change the status quo on the other. These modern cleavages are generally more fluid and less stable than traditional ones.
These two types of cleavage often coexist within the same society and may overlap or conflict. Their relative importance and the way in which they are expressed vary from one country to another and may evolve over time.
Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan were among the first researchers to take a systematic interest in political cleavages and their impact on party systems. In their classic book "Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives" published in 1967, they developed a theory of cleavages that has had a major influence on political science research.
According to Lipset and Rokkan, political cleavages are the product of major historical conflicts that have marked the structuring of societies. They identify four main cleavages that have shaped European party systems:
- The Centre-Periphery divide, which pits the country's political and economic centre against its peripheral regions. This divide is often linked to issues of centralisation versus regional autonomy.
- The Church-State divide, which pits secular forces against religious forces. This divide is linked to issues such as control of education and the role of religion in public life.
- The Urban-Rural divide, which reflects the differences between industrialised urban areas and agricultural rural areas.
- The Labour-Capital divide, which pits the working class against the bourgeoisie on economic and social issues.
Lipset and Rokkan argue that these cleavages have had a lasting impact on party systems, and that they have 'frozen' the structure of these systems for a long time. This theory of 'frozen cleavages' has since been widely debated and modified, but it remains a major reference point in the study of cleavages and party systems.
Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan have proposed a theory suggesting four major cleavages that have shaped European political systems, including Switzerland. These historical cleavages are religious, centre-periphery (also perceived as linguistic in Switzerland), class and town-country, and have greatly influenced the formation of political parties.
The first divide, the religious divide, is clearly evident in Switzerland in the historical tensions between Catholics and Protestants. These two groups have often demonstrated distinct political preferences, thus shaping the country's political landscape. Then there is the centre-periphery divide, also known as the linguistic divide in Switzerland. This divide is linked to the cultural and linguistic differences between the different regions of the nation. As a result, there are variations in political preferences between the German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking cantons. The class divide, common to many European countries, is also present in Switzerland. It symbolises the historical tensions between workers and the upper classes, often expressed through the opposition of socialist or left-wing parties to conservative or right-wing parties. Finally, the urban-rural divide is characterised by differences in political preferences between urban areas, which are generally more progressive, and rural areas, which are often more conservative. These cleavages have considerably shaped political parties and electoral competition in Switzerland.
These cleavages, both traditional and contemporary, are deeply rooted in social and political history. Some, such as the class divide and the urban-rural divide, are linked to the process of industrialisation. For example, the class divide reflects the socio-economic tensions between workers and the upper classes that emerged during the industrial revolution. Similarly, the urban-rural divide represents the differences between urban areas, which are generally more progressive and industrialised, and rural areas, which are often more conservative and agricultural. Other cleavages, such as the centre-periphery divide (or linguistic divide in Switzerland) and the religious divide, are linked to the creation of the nation state. The centre-periphery divide reflects attempts by the political and economic centre of a country to homogenise and control peripheral regions, which can lead to tensions between these regions and the centre. In the case of Switzerland, this divide is also linguistic, reflecting the differences between the German-speaking, French-speaking and Italian-speaking cantons. The religious divide, meanwhile, is linked to the tensions between religious and secular forces within society. In Switzerland, this can be seen in the historical differences between Catholics and Protestants. These cleavages continue to influence Swiss politics, although their relative importance may vary over time.
Traditional cleavages have played an essential role in structuring the political systems of many countries, including Switzerland. However, it is generally accepted that their importance has diminished over time. Take, for example, the religious divide in Switzerland. In the nineteenth century, this divide was extremely strong, to the extent that it shaped the formation of modern Switzerland. The Sonderbund war, which was largely based on religious differences, is a striking example. However, over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, this religious divide lost much of its strength. The class divide has also undergone significant transformations. Although this divide is still present, its formulation and influence have changed over time.
The weakening of traditional cleavages, often described as "pacification", has given way to the emergence of new cleavages in the political landscape. Among these, the materialist-post-materialist divide has gained in importance. The materialist-postmaterialist divide was theorised by the American political scientist Ronald Inglehart in the 1970s. According to Inglehart, this divide reflects a shift in values within Western societies that has taken place over the last few decades. Materialists tend to value economic and physical security, and focus on traditional material needs such as employment and income. Post-materialists, on the other hand, attach greater importance to issues such as personal autonomy, quality of life and human rights. The emergence of this new cleavage does not necessarily mean that the traditional cleavages have disappeared. On the contrary, they often coexist and can interact in complex ways, influencing political preferences and electoral behaviour.
The materialist-post-materialist divide, which was recognised in the 1980s and 1990s, is often attributed to generational renewal. More specifically, this divide is linked to the distinct experiences of generations born after the Second World War compared with those born before. These post-war generations lived in an era of relative peace and experienced unprecedented levels of education. These conditions contributed to the emancipation of society and encouraged the emergence of what are known as post-materialist values. Unlike materialistic values, which focus on economic and physical security, post-materialistic values emphasise personal fulfilment and self-realisation. They also favour environmental protection over economic growth. In this sense, environmental conflict is often linked to the emergence of this materialist-postmaterialist divide. These new priorities have helped to redefine the political landscape, with increased attention being paid to environmental issues, human rights and individual freedom.
Environmental conflict is often associated with the emergence of the materialist-post-materialist divide. This political divide pits two groups of people with different values and priorities against each other. On the one hand, there is the group of materialists, who focus on economic and material concerns, such as economic growth, job security and economic stability. These individuals tend to give priority to economic growth, even if this may have harmful consequences for the environment. On the other hand, there is the group of post-materialists, who place greater value on concerns such as quality of life, personal autonomy and human rights. They tend to be more concerned about environmental issues and are more likely to support policies to protect the environment. So the environmental conflict between those who favour continued economic growth and those who argue for greater attention to environmental issues can be seen as a manifestation of this materialist-post-materialist divide.
The divide between openness and tradition is another emerging political dynamic, sometimes also referred to as "integration-demarcation" or "modernisation-tradition". This divide became increasingly prominent in Swiss politics from the 1980s and 1990s onwards, and became even more important in the 2000s and 2010s. On one side of this divide are groups favouring international openness, solidarity and the modernisation of society. These groups are generally inclined to support Switzerland's integration into supranational structures such as the European Union, and to favour progressive policies on issues such as immigration, equal rights or the environment. On the other side of the divide are groups who favour the defence of Switzerland's traditions and independence, and who oppose greater integration with the European Union. These groups tend to be more conservative, favouring national sovereignty and opposing rapid change in areas such as immigration policy or social standards. It is therefore a divide that reflects a clash of values on key issues in Swiss politics, with an important normative dimension: it concerns divergent conceptions of what Switzerland should be and the direction the country should take in the future.
The openness-tradition divide also has socio-structural roots. It is sometimes interpreted in terms of the 'winners' and 'losers' of modernisation and globalisation. This perspective analyses the divide not only in terms of values, but also in terms of the individual sociological characteristics of the people who uphold those values. On the one hand, the 'winners' are generally those who benefit from international openness, modernisation and globalisation. They are often better educated, wealthier, younger and live in urban areas. These individuals are more inclined to support policies of openness, modernisation and international integration. On the other hand, the 'losers' are those who feel threatened or disadvantaged by these changes. They tend to be less educated, older, less affluent and often live in rural or peripheral areas. These individuals are more likely to support policies of tradition, national independence and resistance to globalisation and openness. The openness-tradition divide is not just a question of values, but is also linked to socio-economic and geographical divisions within society.
Synthesis and Application to Swiss Policy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
We began by analysing how Switzerland's specific institutional context has a strong influence on federal elections. These elections are largely shaped by the distinctive features of the Swiss institutional system. Aspects such as the system of government, direct democracy, federalism and the electoral system all play key roles. In addition, the interaction between the electoral system and federalism is particularly significant. These factors have a considerable impact on the context of elections, affecting not only the political parties themselves, but also voters. They influence both the range of parties on offer and the way in which these parties evolve over time. This complex interaction between the institutional environment and the political landscape has repercussions on the dynamics of federal elections in Switzerland.
This might raise questions about the importance of federal elections in Switzerland, given our earlier discussion suggesting that they might be of lesser importance. A traditional view suggests that parliamentary elections in Switzerland are of relative importance, or at least less important than in other contexts. This view, while still partially valid, emphasises that parliamentary elections have a limited influence on the composition of government in Switzerland. Moreover, they are in competition with the mechanism of direct democracy. Furthermore, the fragmentation of the party system and federalism make major changes in the balance of power between parties less likely in Switzerland.
The fragmented nature of the party system in Switzerland, combined with the country's federalist structure, restricts the chances of any one political party achieving a sudden and significant nationwide expansion. Each canton has its own specificities and political dynamics, making it difficult for a single party to gain massive and uniform support across the country.
In a federalist system such as Switzerland's, power is divided between the central government and the regional or cantonal governments. This system favours a plurality of political parties that can respond to the specific local characteristics of each canton. The result is a highly diverse and fragmented political landscape, where many parties are present and have political influence, rather than a concentration of political power between two or three major parties, as is often the case in more centralised political systems. In this context, a Swiss political party cannot simply rely on a uniform political platform to win significant support across the country. Instead, it must be able to respond to a multitude of local and regional political preferences, which can vary considerably from canton to canton. In addition, the existence of many political parties in the Swiss system means that votes are often spread across several parties, rather than concentrated around a few. So even a small increase in support for a particular party may be enough to give it a stronger position in parliament, but a radical shift in the balance of power between the parties remains unlikely. This means that, even if a party gains popularity in certain regions, it is unlikely to gain the same level of support across the country. This limits a party's ability to 'suddenly grow up' and gain massive support nationally. A party that gains popularity is more likely to see its growth limited to specific regions or cantons. As a result, the Swiss political system favours a slower and more gradual evolution of political parties, rather than rapid and dramatic changes in the political landscape.
The revised view of the importance of Swiss federal elections challenges the idea that these elections are of lesser importance due to the fragmentation of the party system and federalism. This new perspective emphasises that, although major political changes from one election to the next may be rare in Switzerland, significant developments can occur over several electoral cycles. A striking example of this is the rise of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) in Switzerland. On 18 October 2015, the party scored a significant victory by winning 3% of the national vote, a feat dubbed the 'SVP tidal wave'. While 3% may seem like a minor gain in a single election, it is significant in the context of the progressive gains made by the SVP over the years. In the space of twenty years, the SVP has more than doubled its electoral strength, demonstrating that major changes are possible in Switzerland over a longer period. This revised view therefore recognises that, although dramatic changes from one election to the next are unlikely in Switzerland, federal elections remain an important mechanism for longer-term political transformation. They have the potential to gradually influence the Swiss political landscape and shift the balance of power between the political parties. This perspective therefore highlights the growing importance of federal elections in Switzerland.
The rise of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) has led to a marked increase in polarisation in Swiss politics. This polarisation is characterised by a growing ideological divide between the SVP, at the extreme right of the political spectrum, and the parties of the left. This polarisation is marked by profound differences on key issues such as immigration, the environment, European integration and economic policy. In particular, the SVP has been at the forefront of opposition to immigration and closer integration with the European Union, while parties on the left tend to be more supportive of these two issues. The impact of this polarisation has been particularly visible in Swiss political discourse, with increasingly polarised rhetoric and growing tensions between the parties. This may also have implications for the traditional consensus that has been the hallmark of Swiss politics, with governance based on compromise between the different parties. In short, the rise of the SVP and the increasing polarisation of Swiss politics have added a new dimension to the country's politics, making federal elections more important and potentially more divisive.
Swiss politics has undergone significant changes in terms of party dynamics in recent decades. Once characterised by a culture of consensus and inter-party cooperation, Swiss politics has gradually become a more confrontational and competitive arena. This trend has been amplified by the rise of the SVP and the increased polarisation between political parties. The more confrontational nature of Swiss politics is particularly visible during election campaigns, when political parties fight vigorously to win voter support. Legislative activity in parliament has also become more competitive. Political parties are increasingly at odds over a range of policy issues, making the law-making process more contentious and politicised. As a result, the Swiss political landscape has become more dynamic and confrontational, increasing the importance and interest of parliamentary elections. As a result, the political process has become more vibrant, but also potentially more polarised and divided.
Recent research has revealed a surprisingly high level of polarisation within the Swiss political system. Traditionally associated with a model of consensus, Swiss politics is now characterised by one of the highest levels of partisan polarisation in Europe. Over the past two decades, this polarisation has intensified considerably. The divisions between the various political parties have become more pronounced, creating greater tension on the Swiss political scene. This increased polarisation can be attributed to a number of factors, including the rise of the SVP and the profound socio-political changes that have reshaped the Swiss political landscape. In addition, the emergence of new cleavages, such as the divide between traditional and modern values or the divide between the winners and losers of globalisation, has also contributed to this polarisation. While Switzerland is often perceived as a country of consensus and political stability, these recent developments highlight the changing dynamics of Swiss politics and the growing importance of understanding the factors driving this polarisation.
Although parliamentary elections in Switzerland do not generally have a significant impact on the overall composition of government, it is now recognised that they can influence at least one of the seven seats in government, and possibly two in the future. This is partly due to the changing dynamics of the Swiss political landscape, where a seat in government can potentially change hands depending on the election results. Even if this represents only a fraction of the government, it nevertheless increases the importance of parliamentary elections. What's more, these elections provide a useful barometer of political and social trends in Switzerland. They are an opportunity for citizens to express their opinions and concerns, and can thus influence political discourse and the direction of policy in the longer term. Thus, despite their limited influence on the composition of the government, parliamentary elections play an essential role in Swiss democracy.
In the past, Swiss federalism gave greater prominence to local issues and cantonal campaigns in national elections. This was due to the decentralised nature of the Swiss political system, where each canton has its own constitution, government and legal system. However, in recent years we have seen a trend towards the nationalisation of the party system and elections. National issues and debates play an increasingly important role in parliamentary elections, even if the specific features of the cantons remain relevant. As a result, national elections today are much more representative of national issues than they were twenty years ago. This move towards greater nationalisation of parliamentary elections has helped to increase their importance and scope. Less influenced by cantonal particularities, they are now more representative of the national political mood, offering a clearer picture of political dynamics at national level.
All of these trends - increased political polarisation, greater competition between parties, the potential impact of parliamentary elections on the composition of government, and the growing nationalisation of elections - have contributed to raising the importance and interest of parliamentary elections in Switzerland. Political polarisation has made the political landscape more dynamic and unpredictable, stimulating public interest in elections. At the same time, the increasing nationalisation of elections has brought national issues to the fore, making parliamentary elections more relevant to a wider audience. What's more, the possibility that the results of parliamentary elections will influence the composition of the government - even if it's only the sixth or seventh seat - gives elections an extra stake. Although the Swiss political system is designed to promote stability and consensus, these developments have helped to make parliamentary elections more meaningful and exciting for Swiss voters.
The Impact of Political Cleavages on Swiss Politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
This graph shows the average position of the electorate of the various parties in a two-dimensional space. The data on which we rely are opinion survey data, polls conducted after the federal elections.
Post-election surveys such as the SELECTS (Swiss Election Studies) survey conducted by the University of Geneva and other Swiss academic institutions provide a valuable mine of information on the Swiss electorate. These surveys, carried out every four years, capture the attitudes, behaviour and opinions of voters after the Swiss federal elections. By interviewing a representative sample of the Swiss population of up to 4,000 people, these surveys provide a detailed insight into electoral trends, changes in political preferences and the impact of different issues on people's votes. They can help to understand how and why certain political issues become dominant, how attitudes towards political parties change over time, and how factors such as age, gender, education and other socio-demographic characteristics influence voting behaviour. These data can be used to analyse a multitude of aspects of Swiss politics, from the dynamics of political parties to the evolution of political cleavages, and can help identify the factors that contribute to changes in the Swiss political landscape.
In the SELECTS survey, participants are asked to rate their political preferences on a scale of 1 to 6 on various policy issues. These issues can cover a wide range of subjects, from economic policy to environmental policy to more general social issues. By asking participants to place their opinions on this scale, researchers can obtain a quantitative measure of voters' political preferences. This makes it possible to analyse individuals' political positions in greater detail and with greater precision than would be possible with a simple question on political party membership. For example, a person might be asked a question like: "To what extent do you agree with the statement that Switzerland should be more open to international influences?" On a scale of 1 to 6, 1 might mean "Strongly disagree" and 6 "Strongly agree". In this way, researchers can obtain a more nuanced view of respondents' political attitudes.
The questions used to produce these two dimensions are, for the horizontal axis, classic redistributive questions that could be called the economic left-right divide. For the horizontal axis, the question is whether you are in favour of a Switzerland in which social spending is increased or a Switzerland in which the Confederation's social spending is reduced. The second question is whether you are in favour of a Switzerland in which taxes on high incomes are increased, or whether you are in favour of a Switzerland in which taxes on high incomes are reduced. In each case, these are left- or right-wing preferences, and then we calculate the average position of voters, which indicates which party they voted for on this axis.
These two questions are classic for situating voters on a left-right axis in the political context. The horizontal axis is based on economic issues, which traditionally correspond to the left-right divide. In other words, preferences for a greater or lesser redistribution of wealth. At one end of the axis (the left), we find people who are in favour of increasing social spending and taxes on high incomes to encourage a more egalitarian distribution of wealth. At the other end (the right) are those who want to reduce social spending and cut taxes on high incomes, often with the aim of stimulating economic growth and private investment. As for the vertical axis, it may represent another important cleavage in politics, such as the liberal-conservative divide on societal issues or the open-closed divide on issues of immigration and globalisation, for example. For each voter, an average of their answers to the questions is calculated to determine their position on the left-right axis. Voters are then grouped according to the party they voted for, which makes it possible to establish an average position for each party on the political axis.
The same applies to the vertical axis. There are two questions behind the representation, the first being a question about foreigners, i.e. whether we are in favour of a Switzerland that gives the same opportunities to foreigners as to the Swiss, or whether we are in favour of a Switzerland that favours the Swiss on a scale of 1 to 6. The second question is whether we are in favour of Switzerland joining the European Union or going it alone. The question on equal opportunities for the Swiss and foreigners addresses attitudes towards immigration and integration. Those who are more in favour of equal opportunities can be seen as having more cosmopolitan or universalist values, while those who favour the Swiss can be seen as having more nationalist or ethnocentric values. The question on EU membership addresses attitudes towards globalisation and European integration. Those in favour of membership can be seen as having a more open attitude towards globalisation and international integration, while those in favour of a Switzerland that 'goes it alone' can be seen as having a more closed attitude, favouring independence and national sovereignty. Thus, the vertical axis allows us to situate voters on a divide between openness/integration and tradition/independence. As with the horizontal axis, an average of each voter's answers to these questions is calculated to determine their position on the axis, and these positions are then grouped by political party.
On the horizontal axis, the economic left tends to support a stronger role for the state in the economy, particularly in the redistribution of wealth and the provision of public services, while the economic right tends to favour a free-market approach with less state intervention. The vertical axis represents a divide based on attitudes to social and cultural change and globalisation. The upper pole (openness) represents progressive, cosmopolitan and pro-globalisation values, while the lower pole (tradition) represents conservative, nationalist values and a preference for autonomy and national sovereignty. These two axes make it possible to map a wide variety of political positions and to understand the main divisions among voters and political parties.
The average position of the various party electorates in 1995 and 2011 is shown. We can see that there is a left-wing electorate at the top left with the Socialist Party and the Greens, a SVP electorate at the bottom right and in the middle the electorate of the moderate right. In such a representation, Socialist and Green voters would be at the top left, reflecting their preference for greater state intervention in the economy (left-right axis) and their openness to issues of globalisation and cultural change (openness-tradition axis). Similarly, voters for the UDC (Union Démocratique du Centre) would be located at the bottom right, reflecting their penchant for a more liberal market economy and their more conservative and nationalist attitudes to culture and globalisation. Voters for parties on the centre and moderate right, such as the Liberal-Radical Party and the Christian Democrat Party, would probably fall somewhere in the middle, reflecting a combination of right-wing economic views and more moderate or mixed attitudes to issues of globalisation and cultural change. It is also interesting to note the movements of voters over time. For example, if a party's voters move to the right or left on the economic axis, or up or down on the openness-tradition axis, this could indicate a change in that electorate's priorities or concerns.
If we draw a median line, which is the regression line in the middle of the points, we see the left-right axis.The left-right dimension in Switzerland is to some extent a synthesis of these two dimensions, with the left-right economic axis and the new value axis of tradition - openness, integration - demarcation. The parties are not perfectly aligned on the line, but it is quite striking to see that information can be summarised. In most political systems, the left-right axis remains an important dimension for understanding political preferences. In the case of Switzerland, this axis incorporates both traditional left-right economic issues (such as the state versus the market) and the more contemporary divide between openness and tradition. The line of regression you mentioned represents the general trend in political positions. Although not all the parties are perfectly aligned along this line, it gives a good idea of how political preferences are distributed across the Swiss political landscape. Parties at the top left of the line tend to combine left-wing preferences on the economy with support for openness and integration. Similarly, the parties at the bottom right of this line tend to combine right-wing preferences on the economy with support for tradition and demarcation. The distribution of parties along this axis also helps to understand how voters may move between parties. For example, a voter who is economically left-leaning but supports tradition and demarcation might find himself torn between the parties at the top left and those at the bottom left of this line.
The Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC) in Switzerland is distinguished primarily by its positions on issues such as European integration, immigration, asylum and national sovereignty. These issues are generally associated with the openness versus tradition, or integration versus demarcation, dimension of the political axis. In economic terms, the SVP's electorate is not necessarily further to the right than that of the Liberal-Radical Party (FDP). However, the SVP's stance on openness clearly contributed to its electoral success. Voters who strongly value national sovereignty, are sceptical about immigration and are opposed to European integration are likely to feel attracted to the SVP's programme. This phenomenon is not unique to Switzerland. In many countries, parties that take a strong stance on issues related to immigration and national sovereignty can attract significant support, even if their economic positions do not necessarily differ from those of other right-wing parties.
The SVP's electoral success can largely be attributed to its distinctive positioning on issues of openness, European integration, asylum policy and immigration policy. Although economic issues are generally an important aspect of political platforms, the SVP's position on these issues does not appear to be the main factor in its electoral success.The SVP has succeeded in mobilising a broad base of voters by focusing on these issues of national sovereignty and identity. This is particularly true in the context of concerns among some segments of the Swiss population about globalisation, immigration and the perceived loss of control over national affairs. The SVP's success underlines the importance of these issues for many voters and illustrates how the divide between openness and tradition has become a key political issue in Switzerland.
The decline in openness preferences among voters of almost all parties in Switzerland between 1995 and 2011, as you have noted, is a notable phenomenon. This indicates a gradual shift in voters' attitudes towards more conservative positions on the issues of European integration, immigration and national sovereignty. This shift can be explained by several factors. On the one hand, it can be attributed to a changing political climate, both nationally and internationally, marked by growing concerns about the effects of globalisation, immigration, and increased distrust of supra-national institutions such as the European Union. In addition, the political parties themselves may have contributed to this change by modifying their rhetoric and platforms to reflect these concerns. For example, the SVP has been particularly effective in articulating a discourse in favour of national sovereignty and against excessive immigration, which may have influenced the Swiss political landscape as a whole. Finally, it is also possible that voter attitudes have changed as a result of specific events, such as the financial crisis of 2008 and the refugee crisis of 2015, which may have reinforced feelings of insecurity and distrust of European integration. All this demonstrates the complexity of the Swiss political landscape and how voters' attitudes and preferences can change over time in response to a wide range of factors.
The openness-tradition axis appears to play a significant role in contemporary Swiss politics. It is a major political cleavage which, as you mentioned, fulfils three key conditions.
- Empirical structural component: Positions on this axis are largely influenced by structural factors such as level of education, age, socio-economic situation and ethnic or national origin.
- Cultural normative component: Voters' values and beliefs are central to determining their position on the openness-tradition axis. This includes issues such as national identity, attitudes to cultural diversity, immigration and European integration.
- Organisational political component: Political parties and their leaders use this axis to position themselves on the political chessboard, formulate their political platforms and mobilise their supporters. For example, the SVP has adopted a clear position on the 'traditional' end of the axis, while parties such as the Socialist Party and the Greens tend to be on the more open side.
Ultimately, the existence of this openness-tradition axis highlights the importance of cultural values and identities in Swiss politics, in addition to traditional economic issues.
Swiss federalism creates a highly diverse political landscape at local level. The cantons have considerable autonomy in Switzerland, allowing them to develop their own political culture and party system. As a result, political cleavages can vary considerably from canton to canton. In Catholic cantons, for example, political cleavages can be influenced by issues of religion or cultural values. In Geneva, an urban canton with a wide range of ethnic groups and an international economy, the issues may revolve around questions of diversity, social inclusion, housing or the local economy. In more rural cantons, issues relating to agriculture, natural resource management or urban sprawl may predominate. In addition, in these cantons, the weight of tradition and attachment to a strong local identity may be important factors.
These overlapping cantonal party systems contribute to the complexity and fragmentation of the national political landscape, as parties have to navigate between different coalitions and electoral preferences across the country. This means that power is often shared between several parties at national level, each with a voter base in different cantons. As a result, the Swiss political system is often characterised by consensus and coalition rather than single-party dominance. The diversity of cantonal party systems also reflects the uniqueness of each region, respecting Switzerland's cultural, linguistic and economic diversity.
The Swiss political system is unique in that it represents a wide variety of regional perspectives. Each canton has its own political concerns and priorities, which are reflected in the national political landscape. Switzerland's political parties are therefore not "miniature replicas" of national parties. Instead, they reflect the different ideologies, concerns and priorities of each canton, leading to a highly fragmented national political landscape. This diversity is reflected in the different political coalitions and alliances that form at national level. This political fragmentation has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it ensures that each canton has a voice and is represented at national level. This respects Switzerland's cultural and economic diversity and ensures that national policies take account of a wide variety of perspectives. On the other hand, it can make decision-making more complicated at national level, as consensus has to be reached between a large number of parties with different agendas.
Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
- Comportement politique (cours)
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