PS = Social Democratic Party / UDC = Swiss People's Party

Workers’ move to the Swiss People’s Party came a decade after their shift away from socialism

In a new article for the journal Social Change in Switzerland, Line Rennwald and Adrian Zimmermann examine the development of the blue-collar vote in Switzerland between 1971 and 2011. Based on data from ten electoral surveys, the authors show that the Swiss People's Party has been able to fill a gap since the 1990s, after four consecutive parliamentary terms in which the Social Democratic Party lost influence among the working classes.

The article by Line Rennwald and Adrian Zimmermann presents the first systematic analysis of all electoral surveys between 1971 and 2011. Their analysis makes it possible to retrace the steps that led to the divorce between the Social Democratic Party and a significant part of the blue-collar electorate.

Two distinct processes

The authors highlight two distinct processes: firstly a weakening of support from workers for the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s; then the dramatic rise of the Swiss People's Party among this electorate from 1995 onwards. Between the two, and especially at the federal elections of 1987 and 1991, the blue-collar vote was marked by high levels of abstention, which the authors identify as the key stage in the loosening of ties to the Social Democratic Party.

The proportion of workers who voted for the Social Democratic Party decreased from 38% in 1975 to 16% in 2011. At this point, nearly 40% of workers voted for the Swiss People's Party, compared to 8% in 1975. While the Social Democratic Party has lost blue-collar votes in all of Switzerland's linguistic regions, it secures more support among the working classes of the French-speaking cantons.

Changes in the policy programmes

The authors mainly explain these changes with the development of the parties' policy programmes. While the Social Democratic Party has taken up the issues relating to the "new social movements" such as environmentalism, feminism and pacifism, the Swiss People's Party has focused its activity on the subjects of immigration policy and sovereignty in the face of Europe. The populist stance of the Swiss People's Party on these issues has succeeded in uniting the working classes – even though they have little to gain from this party's ultraliberal positions in terms of economic policy.

>> Line Rennwald et Adrian Zimmermann. (2016). Le vote ouvrier en Suisse, 1971-2011. / Der Wahlentscheid der Arbeiter in der Schweiz, 1971-2011.
Social Change in Switzerland No 4. Retrieved from

Contact: Dr. Line Rennwald, +41 79 761 32 81,

The series Social Change in Switzerland documents the evolution of Switzerland’s social structure. It is edited by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS, the Life Course and Inequalities Research Centre of the University of Lausanne LINES , and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES – Overcoming Vulnerability: Life Course Perspectives (NCCR LIVES). The aim is to monitor change in employment, family, income, mobility, voting, or gender in Switzerland. Based on cutting edge empirical research, the series targets a wider audience than just academic experts.