Swiss Minaret vote

Over the weekend Switzerland voted in a referendum to ban Minarets (the spires on Mosques from which Muslims are called to prayer), the result of the vote was 57.5% in favour. Interestingly though the final poll before the referendum showed the opposite – voting intention in the referendum stood at 37% YES and 53% NO. The poll was conducted between Nov 9th and 14th, so there were two weeks between the fieldwork and the referendum during which opinion could easily have shifted in favour of the proposal.

What strikes me though is that it’s also the perfect example of the sort of question where there would be a high risk of social desirability bias. The proposal was opposed by the Swiss government, most political parties, the churches and the media. People may not have felt able to admit to a interviewer (the polls were conducted by phone) that they were going to vote in favour of a policy targetting Muslims and the “socially desirable” thing would have been to say they were voting against it.

We will never know how much shift in opinion there was in those last two weeks, but my guess is that the polls were probably underestimating support for the measure anyway.

54 Responses to “Swiss Minaret vote”

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  1. I’d like to be amazed that so many people felt emboldened to admit that they would vote Yes, but sadly I am not.

    The discrepancy does seem to be very much indicative of the ‘shy racist’ tendency.

  2. Given that this comes under foreign polls, could we have a thread on polling in Australia? There is a din-dong political battle going on in the Liberal party there, against a background of national debate over climate change and the Government’s proposed Emissions trading Scheme.

    Websites such as The Poll Bludger ( ) have a wealth of data to work on so it would be nice to hear what ukpollingreport’s denizens have to say.

  3. I suspect that most populations require little persuasion to vote against manifestations of Islam. They just lack the opportunity afforded to the Swiss If there’s anything to be learned from this result, it’s perhaps that the amount of multiculturalism many people are prepared to tolerate is less than governments imagine, and that only laws and ceaseless top-down initiatives keep a lid on these resentments – something that governments may not always be able to do.

    I wonder what the result of a similar ballot in the UK would be. Not very different is my guess.

    The above is just an observation, just in case I’m misunderstood.

  4. Anyone who has experience of Swiss or indeed Austrian attitudes will not be suprised. It might be that Vienna was the bastion against the Ottoman Turks for so long, or the Swiss liking Switzerland just the way it is. Certainly European PC
    has not inflicted itself on the Swiss at present.

  5. @ James Ludlow
    It speaks volumes regarding the pass we have come to, that you felt your perfectly reasonable comment needed some sort of qualification at the end. It does not.

  6. Cap’n Scooby

    The outcome of the Swiss poll has nothing to do with racism – it simply indicates that the majority of the Swiss do not wish to encourage a militant value system, both religious and secular, that is alien to the country. The current ( ‘liberal and moderate”) Turkish Prime Minister compared Mosques to Islam’s military barracks and Minarets to bayonets. Where is the racism in not wanting these in a country based on Christian principles and traditions?

  7. A foolish referendum.

    The Government could – and should – have used planning laws to prevent the construction of anything they felt ‘undesirable’.

    To put such an obviously controversial matter to a plebiscite shows an amazing degree of political naivete.

  8. I imagine (thought I’m no expert on polls or Swiss politics) that with referenda there is a problem with relative passion. I imagine the anti-minaret crowd are pretty passionate about their cause, while most of the people against the proposal will not be passionately pro-minaret.

    However, I would suspect this can be ironed out by asking people if they will vote, but that is also affected by social pressures. People tend to want referenda, but they are also often loathed to actually go out and vote.

  9. @ King Harold-re James:-
    Well said-I agree absolutely.

    @ Cap’n Scooby:-
    As Charles rightly points out to you, racism is not the issue here.
    I thought we had left those dreadfull days behind in UK, when the word “racist” was thrown at anyone who felt threatened by sudden & uncontrolled cultural change.

    The Swiss referendum majority is an expression of religious intolerance towards Islam in a Christian country.

    Perhaps it is given impetus by the little reported, often violent & murderous, religious intolerance towards Christians in muslim countries.-eg Iran, Egypt,Saudi Arabia, Indonesia,Yemen,Morocco,Algeria,Sudan,Pakistan,

  10. @ King Harald – yes, you’re right. It’s a sign of the times that one anticipates being jumped on by over-zealous types. Mercifully few of those here though, it must be said.

  11. I think we must realise that the Swiss have a strong Protestant tradition.

    It also shows that this PC top down “control” only buries problems and attitudes. Nu labour is equally quilty with the attitude “we do not agree with it so it cannot be so:- so we will legislate and all in the garden will be rosy “because we say so.”

    Wooly thinking.

  12. David in France – the government didn’t want the referendum (and supported a NO vote), it was an example of a referendum triggered by a public petition, in this case orchestrated by two opposition parties.

    Bill Patrick – respondents in the poll were asked how likely they were to vote, though I’m not sure whether it was factored into the topline results.

  13. Christian tolerance is shown again…

  14. Comments outlining the problem around how racism is treated (evil evil evil hitler evil evil), and people in the blurry area around protecting their own culture, or what they percieve to be protecting, and their own culture being forced into the extremes and treated like scum…there have been a fair few clashes over the last year or two between the UAF (Unite Again Facism, wishy washy liberal types you’d think) and various allegedly or actually racist groups…..the BNP, the EDF, etc…..

    What even the most loudly we’re-not-PC papers have been loathe to report is that the violence is almost always initiated by the wishy washers, the UAF essentially ambushing the protests of people they don’t like….

    What this has to do with polling probably isn’t much, but it does say something for the Swiss system that I’ve long admired…..’the people’ having an outlet before it comes to rioting on the streets.

    Ya could even say the Swiss have found a way to let the legendary silent majority speak.

  15. Charles:

    It is highly disingenuous to declare that racism is not a strong motivating factor in this display of intolerance by the majority of voters in the Swiss referendum. The overwhelming majority of Swiss Muslims are of non-Eurasian origin. Campaigns which are ostensibly non-racial use dog-whistle cues that their intended audiences will recognise. Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it is not.

    The one Swiss political party which has been instrumental in pushing for a ‘Yes’ vote was the SVP. This party was also behind the campaign to restrict immigration rights which involved a poster that no reasonable person could conceive as anything other than a crude racist appeal – (0 )

    David in France suggest that the planning laws are a better tool with which one could restrict unwanted developments. This is already the case, as applications for new-build mosques/minaretsare in the main refused.

    There is only one clear reason for this referendum which was to make a statement of intent that Islam is not welcome in Switzerland.

    Regardless of the actual opinions of individual Muslim men, women and children.

    Regardless of Switzerland’s reputation of tolerance and freedom.


    Firstly, it is a non-starter if you wish to justify sectarianism in Switzerland as a counterpoint to the shocking and unjustified sectarianism experienced by Christians in some Muslim majority countries. As the old saying goes, ‘two wrongs do not make a right.’

    Furthermore, far from throwing the word ‘racist’ , I use the term ‘racism’ quite deliberately and in full consciousness of its meaning (see above).

    Thirdly, I see no sudden & uncontrolled cultural change in Switzerland. I admit that I have never been there but then I am supposing that the majority of commentators on the issue have not either.

    There are an estimated 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland out of a population of 7.6 million, which is overwhelmingly Christian.

    And yet only four mosques with minarets.

    At times like this I ask why Christians have such little faith in their own values and beliefs that they need protection through such blunt intolerance?

  16. If there is a problem with social desirability bias in phone polling, is it less of a problem in internet polling where there is no “person” on the other end? Anonymity on the internet certainly does wonders to the nature of opinions and quality of debate on newspaper comment threads….

  17. The link Cap’n Scooby posted is here (slightly corrected):

    I’m tempted to join the debate but I’ve never understood whether this site’s “non-partisan” posting policy prohits debate on political opinions (as opposed to comment on what happens in politics). Guidance, please?

  18. @JACK
    I think some of us are getting more than a little tired of being tolerant the whole time, paticularly to a religion which shows very little tolerance to any other viewpoint. If liberals such as yourself find the situation in this country to your taste, let me assure you, many do not. IMPO, the NKVD like grip on any rational debate regarding this matter, has helped the BNP no end.

  19. Niklas:

    Thank-you for correcting that link.

    Further to your comments, I personally support Anthony’s policy of keeping this site “non-partisan” which I generally take to mean not advocating support for a particular political party and , informally, keeping the conversation civil.

    Obviously, with highly-charged and emotive issues such as the Swiss referendum, this civility comes under strain.

  20. Charles:

    ‘The current ( ‘liberal and moderate”) Turkish Prime Minister compared Mosques to Islam’s military barracks and Minarets to bayonets. Where is the racism in not wanting these in a country based on Christian principles and traditions?’

    Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war…

  21. King Harald-I agree totally, this vote has nothing to do with Christian tolerance everything to do with Muslim intolerance.
    The fact that any none Muslim religion is completely banned in Saudi Arabia and several other countries for example.
    The Swiss are not rejecting Islam or persecuting it, but simply banning a certain part of their buildings which in no way fit with the Swiss national image, and in any case are redundant, most minarets now have loud speakers on them, and I doubt highly the majority secular/Christian population of most Swiss towns and cities would appreciate being woken at sunrise by the call to prayer. In any case only around an eighth of Swiss Muslims practice their religion openly, so minarets become even less relevant.

    Christianity still trumps Islam in the tolerance polls Jack.

  22. “I think some of us are getting more than a little tired of being tolerant the whole time, paticularly to a religion which shows very little tolerance to any other viewpoint.”

    I think there needs to be some reason here. Surely it is not a “religion” that is tolerant or intolerant but its followers? Seventeenth-century English Protestants were a very intolerant bunch but their direct descendents are (ususally) much more tolerant (even though they still read the same Bible). So is Protestant Christianity tolerant or intolerant? Even today, after all, there are plenty of intolerant Christians.

    I’m only too happy to agree that the Saudi regime (for example) is grossly intolerant of other religions, sexist and autocratic. But is a minaret “intolerant” per se? Can architecture be described as if it is a human being’s actions or opinions?

    I met many tolerant young Muslims this July, some of whom live under governments that don’t appreciate liberalism and would rather that everyone was anti-Semitic and stopped talking about democracy and women’s rights. If they are willing to take personal risks to stand up for their ideas then clearly Islam is not a monolithic, intolerant entity.

  23. @Cap’n Scooby
    It’s worth noting that the swiss constitution already bans buildings that don’t match their surroundings, and minarets are objected to on those grounds….however lately ‘higher powers’ have been forcing through the construction on ‘tolerance’ grounds….this could be viewed as a shoring up of the matching landscape rule.

  24. I always understood “racism” to refer to the belief that some races are genetically inferior to others. But lately it seems to refer to any rejection or dislike of another culture or particular cultural practices. As someone who regards all “races” as genetically equal but not all cultures as equally admirable or even tolerable, that leaves me in a swampy grey area. Just call me Swamp Thing.

  25. @Wood

    That is one interpretation but I would contend that you are seeking to downplay the significance of the referendum.

    100,000 citizens do not sign a petition for a referendum because they do not like the style of brickwork.

    A 20% swing in favour in the last fortnight is not down to the unforeseen “shy architectural critic” vote.

    Reference your last sentence to Colin, I am afraid to say that I am one individual who would put on a form “Church of England”, but have totally lost faith in the bend over backwards approach to alien cultures shown by church and govenment alike.
    Our liberal generosity is certainly not recognised as a kind and welcoming response, but as a birthright which it is our duty to provide.
    Our society, foriegn policy, laws and politics can then be critisised from here to eternity whilst hitherto unimaginable benefits are accepted.

  27. @Swamp Thing:

    You are not wrong when you say that “racism” has evolved away from beliefs about the genetic superiority of one type of skin colour against another.

    But nor is racism correctly identified as “any rejection or dislike of another culture or particular cultural practices.”

    Racism has been, is and continues to be a politically debated term. For example, many people would accept the definition of the Jews as a ‘race’ on the basis of genetic heritage.

    However, in the UK , Sikhs are also considered a ‘race’ for the purposes of race relations legislation due to the population being of overwhelmingly Punjabi origin, despite a much looser shared genetic heritage.

  28. No, it’s many things, but I suggest that a large part of it is an objection to the high up political class overruling the constitution (and censoring their opponents) in the name of tolerance.

    People had already objected to the ‘brickwork’ so to speak, Switzerland is far from a Muslim nation, minarets certainly don’t fit there…and have been turned down on those grounds, it’s the same law that keeps switzerland looking so….picturesque. IMO a large part of the motivation of this law was the recent overuling of minaret construction turn downs by high politics, making muslims/minorities a special case….’you’re not allowed to object to minarets, that’s racist.’

    I don’t think anyone hates minarets that much, I think the vote was a complaint against PC dictat.

    Also, I don’t think there ever was much of a swing, just flawed polling.

    I am not talking about the Pilgrim Fathers or Cromwells Ironsides, I am talking about Britain in 2009.

  30. Hmmm,

    King Harold et al:
    I am not sure that this is the best forum to continue this conversation as I think we are straying into a verbal knock-about of the worst kind.

    Clearly this is, as I said, an emotive issue which has the capacity to ignite strong opinions on a range of not necessarily connected issues.

    My last word is that the Swiss have made a very clear statement. However, I do not think that the ban against minarets will, in the long run, do anything but fan those very flames of intolerance from some Muslims that they wish to douse.

    Right, I’m off home now because the trains are running late again.

    Happy posting to one and all.

  31. You are free to petition the British parliament. It will be received and put into a sack behind the speakers chair and normally it is otherwise ignored. This is the traditional custom in the best of all possible worlds. The elite knows best.

    Another parliament in these islands has a committee which is currently awaiting replies to invitations to consultation as part of its procedure of properly considering every petition from citizens.

    This is a revival of a custom of petitioning the monarch which had been in desuetude while the parliament was adjourned for some time, but the person who restored the practice had the same history teacher as I did, which is probably where he got the idea.

    The petitioner is opposed to narrow denominational religious educational teaching said to be the practice at one Roman Catholic school and which he assumes is the practice in other schools.

    The petitioner is an eleven year old boy and a pupil at the school who thinks he should be taught about other religions than Christianity.

  32. This is precisely the sort of issue that we need to vote directly on in this country. When Mrs. Thatcher was in opposition she said that she would look closely at the idea of ‘referenda’ – the hint being that she would introduce this to the UK. Sadly, it didn’t happen.

  33. David E. Jones –

    “This is precisely the sort of issue that we need to vote directly on in this country.”

    What, whether or not people should be allowed to put Minarets on mosques?!

  34. I’m a bit late on this one and have no views on religious buildings. I do agree with David E Jones.

    I know the liberal elite never trust the public with a referendum, particularly if there is a danger the majority does not agree with them.

    Is it true that every bill needs to be approved by the Queen and she has never refused to sign? If so, perhaps next time she comes across a flawed bill and there must be plenty she should say ‘I’m not sure about this one, let’s have a referendum?’

  35. Interesting subject. I put a comment on vote2007 yesterday saying pretty much the same thing, that people were giving the politically correct answer to the pollsters on this. The Swiss tend to be non-confrontational and therefore they would be more likely than most to give the “acceptable” response.

  36. @ Cap’n Scooby:-

    “if you wish to justify sectarianism in Switzerland as a counterpoint to the …sectarianism experienced by Christians in some Muslim majority countries. ”

    I don’t. I didn’t. I said it might be a factor for the Swiss.

    ” I see no sudden & uncontrolled cultural change in Switzerland”

    In the mid 1970s there were c20,000 muslims in Switzerland. They now number c400,000.
    88 % of them are not Swiss citizens.

    Twenty years ago there were three mosques in Switzerland. There are now c 90.

    This would appear to represent reasonably rapid change in Switzerlands cultural make up.

    Whether it is a factor in the referendum outcome, only the Swiss know.

  37. Davey

    She’s also head of the army and I think she might (unlike her Grandfather) draw the line at letting the PM send in tanks and snipers to George Square to quell a demonstration.

  38. Apolgies for the post on this thread :


    C37(-3) L27(nc) LD 20 (+2)

  39. I bet most of the people who voted Yes would say that they are not in favor of the nanny state. The ironic thing is that by voting Yes on this, they extended the nanny state.

  40. It is a perfectly natural instinct to prefer the company of those who share ones language, culture and attitudes most of the time, however refreshing it might be to occasionally sample other cultures. This applies to all races, religions etc. You only have to walk through inner-city areas of any of our main cities to see this.

    That may be an inconvenient fact, but that doesn’t mean that it is not a fact. I presume the Swiss simply expressed this view at the referendum.

  41. Statto,

    Interesting poll, which probably comfirms that the Tory lead is narrowing.

  42. John B Dick

    George Square, possibly, but I am not sure. Was not the invasion of Iraq the opportunity to say ‘ I have been advised, Mr. Blair, that the war is illegal, I think I will ask the people?’

  43. Some of the comments here so far have been a little bit silly. The fact that Islamist ingrates demand – and sometimes get – special privileges, or that Saudi Arabia is an oppressive theocracy hardly constitutes a good reason for us (liberal democracies) to emulate them.

    We do need to stop caving in to theocratic nationalists every time they cry about being offended, but this Swiss referendum was nothing of the sort. It was a divisive political tactic concocted by the Swiss Peoples’ Party to court the votes of bigots without alienating the centre.

    The result of this referendum will have very little impact on the ground since Swiss planning laws already make it close to impossible to get approval for a minaret anyway – apparently there are only four of them in the whole of Switzerland. However, it is a good way to stoke up resentment and spite which can then be channelled into electoral success by the Swiss Peoples’ Party party at the next election.

    Perhaps you can blame the political elite for mollycoddling Islam, but that doesn’t make the Swiss Peoples’ Party the good guys.

  44. Jakob

    One problem with referunda, they can go the wrong way. However, that is surely a fault of ignorance. not referenda. In this case will it cause more resentment or less?

    Do you know what the objection to Minarets is? So long as we (those who want to pray) are allowed to build Mosques, Churches and Temples does it matter?

  45. Pete B – so all ‘natural’ impulses are OK? Do you include paedophilia or cannibalism, both of which are ‘natural’? Surely the mark of a civilised society is that ‘natural’ impulses are controlled for the greater good?

  46. @Devey

    I am against direct democracy in general. The problem with referenda is that most people ignore the actual question because very few people are fully informed on the relevant issues.

    Take the proposed referendum on the Lisbon treaty as an example. Almost nobody in the UK – myself included – knows what is in the Lisbon treaty so the referendum question might just as well say “do you like the EU?”

    It is better to have a system of representative democracy where we vote for people who share our values and then they sort out the minutiae of policy that the rest of us don’t have the time to find out about.

  47. Many women will have voted against any expression or extension of Islamic culture in an advanced capitalist liberal democracy. You would, wouldn’t you?

  48. The Swiss are a but more honest than most Europeans.Muslims increasingly are the modern-day Sudetendeutsche.

  49. JAKOB

    There was a time when I would have agreed with you. When I were a lad way back in the 1950s the Tories claimed a membership of 3 million and Labour over a million plus union members.

    Now the membership of each party is tiny and unrepresentative and they pick one of the three candidates, who outside Scotland, Wales and NI will be the MP.

    I am not aware of any party actively encouraging members to join and stay. Why should they it dilutes their control over policies.

    Also if I am ignorant about, say, Europe, it is because little effort is made to inform us and both the strongly pro and anti seem to exagerate their claims. The fervent antis indicate that all decisions are made by Europe when clearly this is not the case. The pros suggest no one can survive outside the EU, which is patently untrue.

  50. @ Jakob – “The problem with referenda is that most people ignore the actual question because very few people are fully informed on the relevant issues.”

    How do you know this? Referenda are part of the ordinary Swiss system, not strange and rare events as they are in Britain, My understanding is that precisely because the Swiss have regular direct voting, they tend to be much better informed than voters in other countries. I suspect that where people feel they have a real say in how their country is run, a sizeable proportion tend to be much more politically informed. Those who aren’t probably don’t bother to vote either, which is a choice in itself (ie a choice to leave it to other of their fellow citizens to decide matters for them).

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