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Cumulative File 1971-2011

The Swiss Electoral Studies 1971-2011

Background

Swiss national parliamentary elections are frequently considered “low salience” elections. On the one hand, the emphasis on direct democratic elements in the Swiss constitution provides citizens with extensive opportunities to exert institutionalized political influence beyond the parliamentary channel. On the other hand, shifts in political parties’ electoral fortunes had not had any consequences for government composition between 1959 and 2003, due to an informal agreement called the “Zauberformel” (magic formula). The interest in national elections has thus been rather limited for a long time – not only on the part of the Swiss electorate (turnout between 1971 and 2007 has mostly been under 50%), but also on the part of academic electoral research: No single election survey had been conducted until the early 1970s. After two initial surveys in the wake of the 1971 (Sidjanski et al. 1975) and 1975 federal elections (Barnes and Kaase 1979), the 1979 election witnessed the launching of the first VOX survey realized by the Swiss Society for Applied Social Research (GfS) and the University of Bern (Hertig 1980). Thereafter, VOX surveys have accompanied the subsequent federal elections of 1983, 1987 and 1991, and a booklet has been published on each of them (Longchamp 1984, 1988; Longchamp and Hardmeier 1992). Although the VOX surveys could have laid the foundation of a Swiss national election study, these data collection efforts did not trigger many follow-up secondary analysis. Scholars interested in voting behavior still focused much more on referendums and initiatives than on parliamentary elections – as did the VOX surveys. It was probably the growing polarization of Swiss politics and the rise of the populist right in the early 1990s that generated a new surge of interest in federal elections.

The 1995 election constituted, in Peter Farago’s (1995) words, a “new start” in this respect, with the formation of the Swiss Electoral Studies (Selects) project, initially an association of the political science departments of the universities of Bern, Geneva and Zurich. Since then, large-scale surveys have been carried out within the framework of the Selects project for the federal elections of 1995 (Farago 1996; Kriesi, Klöti and Linder 1998), 1999 (Hirter 2000; Sciarini, Hardmeier and Vatter 2003), 2003 (Selb and Lachat 2004; Bühlmann, Nicolet and Selb 2006) and 2007 (Lutz 2008), finally resulting in not only a consolidation but also in a massive expansion of electoral research in Switzerland. One of the primary aims of Selects has been to systematically combine the new survey data with data collected by its precursor research projects. The fact that two complete data collections – those of the 1979 and 1983 VOX election surveys – were lost illustrates the importance of this task. In doing so, Selects has intended to provide a database that facilitates otherwise troublesome longitudinal studies of Swiss elections and voting behavior (Lachat 2004; Trechsel 1995). The product of these efforts is presented here: A pooled set of Swiss election survey data which covers the period between 1971 and 2007 and includes most of the variables that have been included at least twice in the data collections.

This Selects project could not have been successfully finished without the generous support of the Swiss Federal Chancellery, the National Science Foundation (SNF) and the Data and Research Information Services (DARIS) at FORS. On behalf of Selects, Robert Baur (University of Lausanne), Thomas De Rocchi (University of Zurich), Andreas Goldberg (University of Geneva), and Nicolas Pekari (Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences – FORS) built up the database and documentation. They relied on the previous work by Romain Lachat, Marie-Christine Fontana and Peter Selb (University of Zurich), as well as Dominik Gerber and Alex Widmer (University of Geneva). Georg Lutz (FORS) was responsible in his role as project director of Selects.

The following sections provide an overview of the principles and practical decisions that guided the challenging task of harmonizing data from disparate sources in order to establish comparability over time. These principles and decisions are far from being self-evident. Therefore, it is mandatory for those working with the data to consult the detailed documentation of this database.

Election Surveys Used

All the available Swiss election surveys were used to build up this database. Each of them is separately archived and documented at DARIS:

1971-2011 – Data and Documentation

Cumulative Post-election Survey

Download the Data

Download Documentation (en)