How many voters of the St. Gallen electorate got mobilized to turn out at least once in four years?

6 05 2014

The cumulative turnout data of the City of St. Gallen for four years orfifteen consecutive referendum votes now shows that 81.3% of the permanent electorate has participated at least once. The most recent national referendum vote , 9 February 2014, on the anti-immigration initiative has mobilized an additional 1 percent of the citizens who thus far have completely abstained to exercise their political rights in all previous 14 votes.

Source of the data: Fachstelle für Statistik Kanton St. Gallen, Statistikdaten Stimmbeteiligte Stadt St. Gallen.


Cumulative Turnout in a Swiss City

3 11 2013

With the help of a combined data set over seven referendum votes for the years 2010 (3 dates), 2011 (3 dates) and 2012 (1 date) it was possible to follow the turnout of individual voters in the City of St. Gallen over time. Average turnout rates for the seven individual referendum votes do not look surprising. They are actually rather high for Swiss standards and range from 44.5% to 53.4%.
Taking note of how many voters participated at least once across all seven votes we can see that the cumulative participation rate climbs up to 75.3% within a time span of only two years. It could very well go up to 80% for a whole legislature, not yet including elections. 75.3% of the electorate in the City of St. Gallen have therefore participated in at least one polling day out of seven. These figures hardly mirror the picture of an apathetic electorate or of a largely silent majority. As we can see in the table below cumulative turnout already crosses the 50% mark for each consecutive pair of polling dates, which means that within only six months more than half of the electorate was mobilized for a formal political event. The annual values for the years 2010 and 2011 amount to 66.1% and 66.6%, respectively.

More can be found here in German:
Serdült, Uwe (2013) Partizipation als Norm und Artefakt in der schweizerischen Abstimmungsdemokratie – Entmystifizierung der durchschnittlichen Stimmbeteiligung anhand von Stimmregisterdaten aus der Stadt St. Gallen, in: Andrea Good und Bettina Platipodis (Hrsg.) Direkte Demokratie: Herausforderungen zwischen Politik und Recht. Festschrift für Andreas Auer zum 65. Geburtstag. Bern, Stämpfli Verlag, 41-50.

or here in English:
Serdült, Uwe (2014) Switzerland, in: Qvortrup, Matt (Ed.) Referendums around the World: The Continued Growth of Direct Democracy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


Average Annual Turnout for Swiss Referendum Votes, 1879-2013

31 10 2012

Turnout rates for Swiss referendum votes went down after the Second World War to low annual averages of fifty and then even forty percent during the 1970ies and 1980ies. During that time many cantons changed institutional incentives. With the exception of the canton of Schaffhausen they all dropped compulsory voting. Over time three further overlapping trends can help to explain turnout variations: 1) short-term referendum votes on topics such as the relation of Switzerland to Europe or the EU as well as ballots related to immigration and foreigners can boost participation; 2) mid-term a lack of competition between political parties (during the politically very stable phase of the ‘magic formula’ for the distribution of parties in government) can have a demobilizing effect on voters; 3) long-term women are tending to participate at equal rates as men or even more often. Older women who did not grow up with full political rights and thus tend to participate much less than men are slowly disappearing from the electorate.


National level referendum frequencies worldwide by continent, with Switzerland singled out, 1792-2010

23 10 2012

On the national level direct democracy votes are on the rise worldwide. At c2d we document referendum votes since 1793 (see: However, during the last two decades, for the first time in history, Latin America as well as Europe have outnumbered Switzerland regarding the frequency of national referendums. For Europe we attribute this development to the fact that most East European countries have incorporated mechanisms of direct democracy into their new Constitutions after 1991. In Latin America we observe a ‘third wave’ of democratization leading to an increase of referendum votes.

Serdült, Uwe and Welp, Yanina (2012) Direct Democracy Upside Down, Taiwan Journal of Democracy, 8 (1), 69-92.

13 11 2011

In this TJD-article we document all national referendum votes preceded by a collection of signatures from citizens (bottom up referendums). For each case we note who initiated the signature collection: the government or president, political parties in the opposition, civil society organizations.

Direct democracy can thus fulfill three functions in a political system: a) concentration or maintenance of political power, b) party competition, c) citizen empowerment.

In a nutshell, we present four empirical patterns:

1) Worldwide, the number of bottom up referendums is increasing, however, they were applied in only twenty countries (at least once).

2) Historically speaking, this particular mechanism of direct democracy has been used mainly by political opposition parties, however, over time the institution starts to shift into the hands of civil society.

3) Bottom up referendums are oftentimes considered to be the ‘good’ ones that are in a way ‘healthy’ for a political system. However, roughly ten percent of them fulfill the function of a power concentration instrument and are organized rather from top-down, thus perverting the instrument (hence the title of the paper). Especially in Switzerland with a governmental coalition consisting of four political parties it is necessary to organize a citizens’ initiative or a referendum from time to time  in order to ascertain power and to be kept in the government.

4) On a worldwide scale referendum votes initiated by civil society organizations seem to have the highest success rates. Bottom up referendums initiated by civil society therefore seem to cover needs neither political parties in government nor in opposition seem to satisfy.