A few months after the first women had been elected to Parliament, a survey conducted in 1972 found that a majority of Swiss women would have been in favour of women’s suffrage had they been allowed to vote on it, with 73.1% for and 13% against. Nevertheless, only one third of women felt that women should have the same role in politics as men.

Between February and June 1972, the Swiss Voting Study surveyed 1,917 male and female voters who had been registered to vote in the federal elections of 31 October 1971. This survey covers a wide range of social and political issues, and current day Swiss Election Study researchers, Selects, have used it to create a snapshot of the positions of the electorate one year after women had gained the right to vote. A close examination of the data collected also highlights the divide between the positions of male and female citizens.

The data shows that the 'yes' camp had gained ground a year after the vote on women's citizen’s rights. More men were in favour of women's suffrage than women (82.7% compared to 73.1%), while the rest of those surveyed were either against it or had no opinion. In the chart below, the men’s and women's answers each add up to 100%, although not all participants surveyed answered all of the questions. The missing responses have therefore not been included in the chart so that men’s and women's opinions on this topic can be compared.

Women's reluctance to hold political office

The Selects’ study shows that although women wanted to become emancipated, they still had to convince themselves of their civic legitimacy. Only one third of the women surveyed (32.8%) thought that the two sexes should play an equal role in politics. Among the men, this figure was at half (49.7%). Politics was a male preserve for almost one in ten women in 1972 (9.3%) compared to 6.6% of men, with more women than men (49.9% and 38.3% respectively) believing that certain political tasks (offices held) should be reserved for men.

Those surveyed were also questioned about their interest in politics. When asked to answer on a scale ranging from ‘very interested’ to ‘not at all interested’, only 6.2% of women showed a strong interest in politics compared to 18.7% of men, while 26% of women and 33% of men described themselves as quite interested in it. At the other end of the spectrum, 31.7% of women admitted to being completely uninterested in politics compared to only 12.1% of men.

On gender equality

When it comes to gender equality – one of the eleven issues survey participants were asked about – the gap between men and women narrows. Half of women (50%) and only slightly fewer men (46.7%) considered this to be a very important issue. It was considered 'quite important' by 35.9% of men and 31% of women, which means that more than 80% of all men and women supported both sexes having the same rights. The percentage of women and men in the population who were not interested in equality in 1972 was very low: 3.2% of women and 4.7% of men.

Other data shows that women were not really considered as dialogue partners on political matters in 1972, despite the fact that their opinion was equal to that of men in votes and elections. Eight out of ten women (78.2%) were never asked about their political opinions, while the majority of men were asked at least occasionally.

Finally, only 45% of women (457) and 27.9% of men (637) disclosed their political affiliation in the survey. If we therefore exclude those participants who did not respond to this question, the following picture emerges: 45.5% of women and 46% of men saw themselves in the political centre with a score of 3 on a scale of 1 to 5 (or left and right respectively). 17.9% of women and 21.9% of men described themselves on the right (5), while 3.5% of women and 3.8% of men saw themselves on the left. Approximately one fifth of both the male and female electorate tended towards the right (4), and 8.3% of women and 11.9% of men more towards the left (2).

A closer look at Swiss voting behaviour

The Swiss Election Study (Selects) has been analysing the voting behaviour of Swiss citizens in federal elections since 1995. It is conducted by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Social Sciences (FORS) in Lausanne with the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). The data sets are documented and freely accessible for academic purposes.

The Swiss Voting Study survey of 1972 was carried out by means of standardised interviews with a random sample of male and female voters from 131 communes. People who did not answer a specific question were excluded from the statistics, which is why the number of people surveyed varies from one chart to another.