- February 2012 : Swiss people’s initiative against the construction of minarets : analysis and debates
On 29 November 2009, the popular initiative banning the construction of new minarets in Switzerland was accepted by 57.5% of "yes" votes and with a turnout of 53.4% of registered voters. This initiative had been launched in response to controversies surrounding minaret construction projects in Swiss German towns (in particular in Wengen). It was mainly supported by politicians from the Democratic Union of the Centre (UDC, a right-wing political party) and the Federal Democratic Union (UDF, a conservative, evangelical party), while the Government, the majority of the Parliament and the majority of large political and religious organisations recommended rejecting the initiative (see article in Religioscope).
The result of the voting shows (and reminds us) that there are fears and questions about Islam. The minaret was transformed into a symbol of an alleged Islamisation of Switzerland, dreaded by many Swiss. Focussing on this symbol obscured the real issues of the ballot. In the well-chosen words of Mallory Schneuwly-Purdie, sociologist of Religions, it is not on an architectural feature that Swiss people voted, but on a system of values (article of 30.11.2009 in Le Matin). The vote raises above all the question of the "visibilisation" and integration of Islam in Switzerland, as evidenced by the many debates on the issue of Islam (burqa, veil, etc.) and, more widespread, numerous controversies, as much in Switzerland as abroad.
The VOX analysis provides several clues that explain the poll results. If the high poll result can be explained by a latent xenophobia as well as caustic criticism of immigration policies on the part of voters, the analysis also shows that 40% of people generally in favour of an open and tolerant Switzerland also voted for the initiative.
The level of educational appears to be a decisive indicator in the result of the vote : the higher people’s level of education, the less support there was for the initiative. The VOX study also reveals that there was no significant difference in voting behaviour by gender and age. Indeed, it was assumed that a large number of women on the left would vote for the ban on the construction of minarets for fear of a decline in access to equality. The latter were in fact in favour of it, but at just 16%, while left-wing male voters were more likely to approve (21%). This difference is reversed when considering centre-right voters : 87% of centre-right female voters opted for the ban and 71% of men. Finally, it is interesting to note that Christians as a whole (both Protestants and Catholics) supported the initiative (60%), while those "without religion" mainly rejected it.
For more information about the voting and the ensuing discussions, see :