Social Democratic Party of Switzerland

The Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (also rendered as Swiss Socialist Party; German: Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz, SP; French: Parti socialiste suisse, PS; Italian: Partito Socialista Svizzero; Romansh: Partida Socialdemocrata de la Svizra) is a political party in Switzerland. It has had two representatives on the Swiss Federal Council since 1960 and received the second highest total number of votes in the 2015 national elections.

Social Democratic Party of Switzerland

Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz (SP) (German)
Parti socialiste suisse (PS) (French)
Partito Socialista Svizzero (PS) (Italian)
Partida Socialdemocrata de la Svizra (PS) (Romansh)
PresidentChristian Levrat
Members in Federal CouncilSimonetta Sommaruga
Alain Berset
Founded21 October 1888
HeadquartersTheaterplatz 4
CH-3011 Bern
Youth wingYoung Socialists Switzerland
Membership (2015)30,000[1]
IdeologySocial democracy[2]
Democratic socialism[3]
Political positionCentre-left[3][6][7] to
European affiliationParty of European Socialists (associate)
International affiliationProgressive Alliance[11]
Colours     Red
Federal Council
2 / 7
National Council
39 / 200
Council of States
12 / 46
Cantonal executives
28 / 154
Cantonal legislatures
459 / 2,609

The party was founded on 21 October 1888, and is currently the second largest of the four leading coalition political parties in Switzerland. It is the only party on the left with representatives on the Swiss Federal Council, currently Alain Berset and Simonetta Sommaruga. As of September 2019, the SP is the second largest political party in the Swiss parliament.

The SP is the largest pro-European party in Switzerland and supports Swiss membership of the European Union,[3] unlike most other Swiss parties. Additionally, it is strongly opposed to capitalism and maintains a long-term goal of "overcoming capitalism".[4][5][12] The party is a member of the Progressive Alliance,[11] and an associate member of the Party of European Socialists.[13]


There were various 19th century labour movements in Switzerland before the establishment of the national Social Democratic Party, such as the Grütli Union, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (1880), and several local social democratic parties. Most of these labour parties only lasted a short time, until the foundation of the Social Democratic Party on 21 October 1888 (the Swiss Labour Day). Albert Steck of Bern composed the party's platform, which emphasised democracy, rejected revolutionary aspirations and mandated a democratic solution to the social question. The first party president was Alexander Reichel of Bern.

Two years after the party's foundation, Jakob Vogelsanger was the first Social Democrat to be elected to the National Council. In 1904, the moderate party platform was replaced at a party conference in Aarau, with a Marxist program written by Otto Lang.

The First-past-the-post voting system for elections to the National Council and the borders of the electorates initially prevented the party from achieving serious political power on the national level, despite growing numbers of supporters. Two Popular initiatives for the introduction of a Proportional voting system were rejected.

In 1912, at a party conference in Neuenburg, the question of women's suffrage was debated for the first time. The SP accepted a proposal which committed the party to take any opportunity to "agitate for the introduction of women's suffrage."

Interwar period

Although Switzerland remained neutral in the First World War, it did not avoid the spiralling economic crisis that accompanied it. The resulting social tension was unleashed in 1918 by the labour unions and SP, who organised the Landesstreik. The goal of the strike was a fundamental reorganisation of society. The Federal Council issued an ultimatum to the strikers and allowed the military occupation of central points. In this way the strike was ended after four days. Political action was quickly taken to conciliate the strikers, like the introduction of a 48-hour working week and a popular initiative on proportional elections to the National Assembly, which passed on 13 October 1918. In the 1919 federal elections, the SP doubled its mandate from 20 to 41 members.[14]

With the third party platform, which was adopted in 1920, disagreement within the party grew ever greater. In particular the fact that the platform called for the foundation of a 'Dictatorship of the proletariat' during the transitional phase from a Capitalist class-based society to a socialist commune sparked violent dispute within the party. In 1921, the party decided not to join the Third Communist International. The left wing of the party then split from the SP and founded the Communist Party. In 1926, the SP instead joined the Labour and Socialist International, which it continued to be a member of until 1940.[15]

With increasing power in parliament, the party now also demanded membership of the government, but their candidate in 1929 was not elected to the Federal Council. On the other hand, in 1933, the party managed to enter the executive at a cantonal level. Genf was the first canton to have a 'red' government, with Léon Nicole as president. In the fourth party platform, promulgated in 1935, the SP rejected the idea of the 'Dictatorship of the proletariat,' but the creation of a socialist society on "free and consensual foundations" remained the party's goal.

The SP in government (since 1943)

In the 1943 federal election, the SP achieved the greatest electoral success in its history and became the largest parliamentary group. Ernst Nobs was the first member of SP to be elected to the Federal Council. With introduction of the Old-age and survivors' insurance, a further demand dating back to the time of the Landesstreik was achieved. After the failure of an SP referendum on economic reforms in 1953, the SP member of the Federal Council, Max Weber and the General secretary David Farbstein resigned. The SP remained in opposition until the introduction of the "Magic formula" in 1959, which gave it two seats on the Federal Council. Since that time the SP has been a member of the grand coalition which governs Switzerland.[14] The fifth party platform was also agreed in 1959, in which the party committed itself to reformist socialism on "democratic foundations".

In the 1970s and 1980s, the SP gained new followers from the new social movements that arose from the protests of 1968, but lost part of their traditional voter base in the working class. This change led to fierce internal disputes and led to a decline in electoral success. After serious losses in the 1987 federal election, the SP was only the third-largest party in the National Council. This resulted in the foundation of a breakaway Democratic-Social Party, which was not a success.

The sixth party platform was promulgated in 1982. This presented the party as a modern people's party that supported democratic socialism and had social justice as its highest goal. In 1983, the SP nominated Lilian Uchtenhagen as their candidate for the Federal Council - the first time that a woman had been a candidate. The parliamentary majority elected Otto Stich instead. Part of the party demanded that the SP withdraw from the governing coalition as a result of this, but this was rejected by a party conference. Ten years later, in March 1993, Ruth Dreifuss was elected as the first SD woman to serve in the Federal Council. On that occasion too, the United Federal Assembly did not choose the official candidate of the SP (Christiane Brunner), but the unofficial candidate Dreifuss (the Brunner-Effekt).

In 1990, the SP party conference accepted Switzerland's accession to the International Monetary Fund with clear conditions and elected the Valais canton councillor, Peter Bodenmann, as party president. At the 1992 party conference in Genf, the SP decided to support accession to the European Economic Area as a first step towards membership of the European Economic Community and endorsed a drug policy involving the decriminalisation of drug consumption, controlled sale of drugs for medicinal purposes, and eventual legalisation of drugs. The following year, the SP supported the national people's initiative "for a reasonable drug policy," which envisioned the legalisation of cannabis. The SP supported the 1994 national initiative "for the protection of the Alps", which sought a substantial shift of transport of goods through the Alps from road to rail. After Otto Stich's resignation from the Federal Council in 1995, the Federal Councillor Moritz Leuenberger was elected as his successor. In the 1995 federal election, the SP made a substantial recovery and was once again the largest party in the Federal Council.

In June 1997, the party conference chose Zurich city councillor, Ursula Koch as party president (the first woman to hold the role), rather than the favourite Andrea Hämmerle. In the 1999 federal election, Koch was also elected to the Federal Council. She resigned as party president and Federal councillor in 2000, due to internal party pressure. Her successor was Christiane Brunner, who led the party until 2004.

In the 2007 federal election, the SP suffered massive losses, falling to 19.5% of the vote, with only 43 seats in the National Council. In the following elections (2011 and 2015), their electoral support remained at the same level. On the other hand, in the Council of States, where they traditionally have had only a few seats, they were able to increase their representation over the 2000s and now hold twelve of the Council's forty-six seats.

The party's historical archives are hosted today by the Swiss Social Archives.


The Social Democratic Party is composed of around 900 sections across Switzerland, which exists at cantonal and municipal levels. Each of the 32,000 party members are registered in a local section and thus are members of both the cantonal and national parties. Local sections elect delegates to attend the regular party members' conferences; these delegates are entitled to vote in cantonal party conferences.

Each of the 26 cantonal sections (Valais is divided into two sections: Oberwallis and Valais Romand) elect delegates for national party conferences. The number of delegates for each canton is equivalent to the number of seats that the canton has in the National Assembly.

The Social Democratic Party has a youth party, Young Socialists Switzerland (JUSO/JS). The Young Socialists are independent of their 'mother party' in political terms but are supported by it financially and institutionally. Within the SP, the Young Socialists are seen as equivalent to a cantonal section, so they are entitled to send some delegates to party conferences. The current president of the Young Socialists, Tamara Funiciello is simultaneously Deputy President of the Social Democratic Party. There is a separate, smaller SP youth party, Junge SP in the Olten region.


The SP supports classical social democratic policies. To that rule, the SP stands for a government offering strong public services. The SP is against far-reaching economic liberalism, in favor of social progressivism, environmental policy with climate change mitigation, for an open foreign policy, and a national security policy based on pacifism.

In economic, financial, and social welfare policy, the SP rejects policies of economic liberalization such as deregulation, lowering taxes for high-income citizens, and decreases in government spending on social insurance. The SP also opposes raising the retirement age. In addition, the SP is a proponent of increasing welfare spending in some areas such as for a publicly financed maternity leave, universal health care and a flexible retirement age. In tax policy the SP opposes the notion of lowering taxes for high-income citizens. By campaigning for the harmonisation of all tax rates in Switzerland, the SP seeks more redistribution. The SP is skeptical toward the privatization of state enterprises. Nonetheless, the SP also promotes more competition in the areas of agriculture and parallel imports.

In social policy, the SP is committed to social equity and an open society. Thus, the SP aims at making working conditions for women in families easier by promoting more external childcare centers and more opportunities for part-time jobs. It also aims at reinforcing sexual equality in terms of eliminating wage differences based on gender, supports civil union for homosexuals and takes an easier stance toward abortions. The SP also rejects strengthening restrictions on asylum seekers and immigrants. Thus, it supports the integration of immigrants by which the immigrants are assigned to immigration procedures immediately after entering the country. The SP has a liberal stance toward drugs and is in favor of publicly regulated heroin consumption and the legalization of cannabis. Nevertheless, the SP supports the smoking ban in restaurants and bars.

In foreign policy the SP promotes further participation by Switzerland in international organizations. It supports immediate entry of Switzerland into the European Union. The SP also stands for a less strict neutrality of Switzerland, and supports increased international efforts on the part of Switzerland in the areas of peace and human rights. However, the SP supports keeping the military neutrality and opposes entry into NATO. Its pacifist stance is also reflected in its military policy: The SP supports reducing the number of Swiss militia while making the military apparatus more professional and scrapping conscription. Another demand of the SP is to end the tradition of gun ownership, using severe and recent examples of abuse in terms of murder as proof.

Together with the Green Party of Switzerland, the Social Democrats have common environmentalist policies, which are reflected in the expansion of ecotax reforms and increased state support for energy saving measures and renewable energies. The SP is against the construction of new roads where possible and instead proposes to shift the transportation of goods from the roads to the railways and the introduction of a cap and trade and traffic management system when it comes to transportation across the Swiss Alps. Furthermore, the SP stands for an expansion of the public transportation system network and opposes nuclear energy.

Electoral performance

In 2003, it held 52 mandates (out of 200) in the Swiss National Council (first chamber of the Swiss parliament); 9 (out of 46) in the second chamber and 2 out of 7 mandates in the Swiss Federal Council (executive body). By 2005, it held 23.8% of the seats in the Swiss Cantonal governments and 23.2% in the Swiss Cantonal parliaments (index "BADAC", weighted with the population and number of seats). At the latest legislative elections on 18 October 2015, the party won 18.8% of the popular vote and 43 out of 200 seats.[16]

Election results

Year Votes Seats Rank (seats)
# % ± pp # ±
1890 3.6
1 / 147
1 5th
1893 5.9
1 / 147
1896 25,304 6.8
2 / 147
1 4th
1899 35,488 9.6
4 / 147
2 4th
1902 51,338 12.6
7 / 167
3 4th
1905 60,308 14.7
2 / 167
5 5th
1908 70,003 17.6
7 / 167
5 4th
1911 80,050 20.0
15 / 189
8 3rd
1914 34,204 10.1
19 / 189
3 3rd
1917 158,450 30.8
20 / 189
2 3rd
1919 175,292 23.5
41 / 189
21 2nd
1922 170,974 23.3
43 / 198
2 3rd
1925 192,208 25.8
49 / 198
6 2nd
1928 220,141 27.4
50 / 198
1 2nd
1931 247,946 28.7
49 / 187
1 2nd
1935 255,843 28.0
50 / 187
1 1st
1939 160,377 25.9
45 / 187
5 2nd
1943 251,576 28.6
56 / 194
11 1st
1947 251,625 26.2
48 / 194
8 2nd
1951 249,857 26.0
49 / 196
1 2nd
1955 263,664 27.0
53 / 196
4 1st
1959 259,139 26.4
51 / 196
2 1st
1963 256,063 26.6
53 / 200
2 1st
1967 233,873 23.5
50 / 200
3 1st
1971[17] 452,195 22.9% – 0.6
46 / 200
4 2nd
1975[17] 477,125 24.9% + 2.0
55 / 200
9 2nd
1979[17] 443,794 24.4% – 0.5
51 / 200
4 2nd
1983[17] 444,365 22.8% – 1.6
47 / 200
4 2nd
1987[17] 353,334 18.4% – 4.4
41 / 200
6 3rd
1991[17] 373,664 18.5% + 0.1
41 / 200
0 2nd
1995[17] 410,136 21.8% + 3.3
54 / 200
13 2nd
1999[17] 438,555 22.5% – 0.7
51 / 200
3 2nd
2003[17] 490,392 23.3% + 0.8
52 / 200
1 2nd
2007[17] 450,308 19.5% – 3.8
43 / 200
9 2nd
2011[17] 451,236 18.7% – 0.8
46 / 200
3 2nd
2015[16] 475,071 18.8% + 0.1
43 / 200
3 2nd

Party strength over time


Percentage of the total vote for the Social Democratic Party in Federal Elections 1971-2015[18]
Appenzell A.Rh.37.440.1*23.6**21.929.619.9**28.6
Appenzell I.Rh.**********20.318.1
St. Gallen14.615.118.016.311.413.
1.^a * indicates that the party was not on the ballot in this canton.
2.^b Part of the Canton of Bern until 1979.


1888–1889Alexander Reichel
1890–1891Albert Steck
1892–1894Eugen Wullschleger
1894–1896Wilhelm Fürholz
1897Karl Zgraggen
1898Paul Brandt
1898–1901Otto Lang
1901–1902Joseph Albisser
1902–1908Gottfried Reimann
1909–1910Eduard Kessler
1911Hans Näher
1912–1916Fritz Studer
1916–1917Emil Klöti
1918Jakob Gschwend
1919Gustav Müller
1919–1936Ernst Reinhard
1937–1952Hans Oprecht
1953–1962Walther Bringolf
1962–1970Fritz Grütter
1970–1974Arthur Schmid
1974–1990Helmut Hubacher
1990–1997Peter Bodenmann
1997–2000Ursula Koch
2000–2004Christiane Brunner
2004–2008Hans-Jürg Fehr
Since 2008Christian Levrat

Members of the Swiss Federal Council

1943–1951Ernst Nobs
1951–1953Max Weber
1959–1969Willy Spühler
1959–1973Hans-Peter Tschudi
1969–1977Pierre Graber
1973–1983Willy Ritschard
1977–1987Pierre Aubert
1987–1993René Felber
1983–1995Otto Stich
1993–2002Ruth Dreifuss
1995–2010Moritz Leuenberger
2002–2011Micheline Calmy-Rey
Since 2010Simonetta Sommaruga
Since 2011Alain Berset

Notes and references

  1. The Swiss Confederation — A Brief Guide. Federal Chancellery. 2015. p. 18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  2. Nordsieck, Wolfram (2019). "Switzerland". Parties and Elections in Europe. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  3. "Switzerland—Political Parties". European Election Database (EED). Norwegian Centre for Research Data. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  4. "Überwindung des Kapitalismus bleibt SP-Fernziel" (in German). Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen. 7 April 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  5. "SP will die "Überwindung des Kapitalismus" konkretisieren" (in German). Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen. 3 December 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  6. Rahim, Zamira (20 October 2019). "'Not a wave, a tsunami': Green parties celebrate historic gains in Swiss election". The Independent. Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  7. René Schwok (2009). "Why Switzerland Refused to Join the European Union". Switzerland--European Union: An Impossible Membership?. Peter Lang. p. 119. ISBN 978-90-5201-576-7.
  8. Ladner, Andreas (2013). Die Positionierung der Schweizer Parteien im internationalen Vergleich. Die Parteien in Bewegung: Nachbarschaft und Konflikte. NZZ Libro. p. 213.
  9. The Economist Intelligence Unit (2015). Switzerland--Country Overview. The Economist. p. 1.
  10. Federal Chancellery, Communication Support (2016). The Swiss Confederation – a brief guide. Switzerland: Swiss Confederation. p. 18. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  11. "Parties & Organisations". Progressive Alliance. Retrieved 22 July 2019.
  12. "Positionspapier sorgt für rote Köpfe bei Genossen" (in German). Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen. 19 November 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  13. PES member parties PES Archived 2013-05-03 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2013-09-07.
  14. Social Democratic Party. (2007-11-30). Retrieved on 2013-09-07.
  15. Kowalski, Werner. Geschichte der sozialistischen arbeiter-internationale: 1923 - 19. Berlin: Dt. Verl. d. Wissenschaften, 1985. p. 323
  16. Bundesamt für Statistik. "Nationalratswahlen: Übersicht Schweiz". Retrieved 2015-10-19.
  17. Grossenbacher, Timo (2015-09-30). "Party strongholds and political battlefields 1971−2011 - SWI". Retrieved 2016-03-20.
  18. Nationalratswahlen 2015: Der Wandel der Parteienlandschaft seit 1971 (Report). Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2015. Archived from the original on 2016-08-02.
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