Swiss national elections: strategic alliances more important than campaigning?

By Claudia Alpiger* and Daniel Bochsler

List apparentments have heavily affected the distribution of seats in the national assembly, also in the recent national elections of Switzerland. Our analysis, published today in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, shows that the Green Liberal Party has doubled its mandates only due to its strategy of engaging in electoral alliances with different parties in different cantons.
Apparentments are a very rarely seen solution in proportional electoral systems. They are used in 20 out of 26 Swiss cantons, where elections to the national assembly are held by a proportional electoral system, relying on the D’Hondt formula. Under this formula (division allocation rule with rounding down), large parties are strongly favoured over small parties. However, political parties are allowed to link several electoral lists, and the initial seat allocation treats such alliances – called apparentments – jointly as a single unit, even if each party runs with its own list. Thereafter, mandates won by such an alliance are allocated to each of the electoral lists. Such apparentments especially help coalitions of small parties not to loose seats towards large parties (see Bochsler, 2010, Electoral Studies).

For the most recent Swiss parliamentary elections of 23 October, we have simulated the party benefits and losses from apparentment strategies. There are three main winners.
As in previous years, the Social Democratic Party (SPS) and the Green Party (GPS) had a consequential apparentment strategy in almost each canton (except for two cantons, Aargau and Ticino). This helped the SPS – the biggest party in this apparentment – to gain six seats, and the Green Party won four seats. The Green Liberals joined the left-wing-green alliance only in one canton, Graubünden, but won a seat there, only thanks to this apparentment.
Equally, the Christian Democratic Party (CVP) benefitted with six seats from apparentments. The party was lucky to find several new small centre-right parties, being very compatible with the CVP for joining apparentments.
The third party which equally benefitted from apparentments were the new Green Liberals (6 seats won). They engaged in flexible alliances, in many cantons with the CVP and the BDP, but in others also with various small parties, spanning the whole political spectrum from the left (GPS) to the far right (with the Christian-conservative EDU), and in one canton (Graubünden) allied to the SPS. The benefit of six gains due to list apparentments is quite remarkable, given the total of only 12 mandates that the party won in the national elections. Given these numbers, the right alliance strategy probably paid out much more than the electoral campaign.
The loser of the apparentments is the Swiss People’s Party (SVP). Due to their increasing political isolation in the Swiss party landscape, they engaged in apparentments almost only with the small Christian-conservative EDU in several cantons, the anti-immigration party Lega dei Ticinesi in the canton of Ticino, and in one case (Vaud) with the Liberals (FDP). These apparentments did not help them to win any seat. Instead, in most cases where other parties won mandates through apparentments, this was paid by the SVP. No wonder a MP of the SVP has now started a proposal to abolish the apparentment system in Swiss national elections.

* Claudia Alpiger works in the Democracy Barometer group at the Zentrum für Demokratie Aarau

This entry was posted in Elections, Switzerland by daniel bochsler. Bookmark the permalink.

About daniel bochsler

Daniel Bochsler is Assistant Professor of Democratisation at NCCR Democracy at the University of Zurich. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Geneva. His main research interests include elections, political parties and ethnic politics, with a special focus on young democracies. He has been for research stays at the Universities of Tartu, Belgrade, at the University of California at Irvine and at the Central European University in Budapest. His monograph “Territory and Electoral Rules in Post-Communist Democracies” has been published by Palgrave. www.bochsler.eu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s