In the lead-up to last month’s Swiss elections, most observers expected two long-term trends to continue. On the one hand, support for the anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party, or SVP, was projected to climb, as it had for more than 20 years. On the other, the traditional power brokers in the Swiss centre were expected to again lose ground, continuing a steady erosion of their support. But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box: Swiss voters didn’t reject the SVP, but they did cool to its message. The party lost more than three per cent of its popular vote from 2007, shedding eight parliamentary seats in the process. A cluster of new centrist parties, including a group of breakaway moderates from the SVP, picked up much of the slack.
The Swiss vote “is part of a larger trend,” believes Mario Canseco, vice-president at Angus Reid Public Opinion. Support for anti-immigrant parties soared in Europe following the economic crash in 2008. Much of that ardour has now cooled, Canseco says. Europe’s extreme right is far from dead—the SVP remains Switzerland’s largest single party, for example. But if the Swiss vote does reflect a move away from the European instinct to tar outsiders for internal problems, it could be a very good sign indeed.