News; News & Events

SWITZERLAND: Swiss Vote “No” on Basic Income Referendum

On June 5, 2016, Swiss people voted on a referendum that included a question about implementing a universal basic income. Although the official text for the vote did not specify the level, the campaigners proposed 2,500 Swiss francs for adults and 625 francs for children per month.

Credit to Basic Income News Editing team (namely Josh Martin, Jenna van Draanen, Kate McFarland, André Coelho, Karl Widerquist and Tyler Prochazka) and Philippe Van Parijs.

The referendum on Unconditional Base Income (UBI), as they call it, has been building since 2013 when the Swiss Citizen’s Initiative, co-initiated by Enno Schmidt, gathered enough signatures (more than 100,000) to successfully trigger their right to have a national referendum on the issue. Although the Swiss Federal Council rejected the initiative in August 2014, the rejection was more of a symbolic suggestion to vote against the basic income than a consequential political action: the Swiss people had already asserted their constitutional right to the referendum.

Basic income advocates utilized headline-grabbing tactics to gain publicity for the referendum.  Upon submitting the initiative in 2013, basic income supporters dumped 8 million five-rappen coins (one for each Swiss citizen) outside the Federal Palace in Bern. Then, in the final weeks before the vote, members of the Swiss Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income unveiled a poster that broke the poster size world record.

While this referendum may have been voted down, the Swiss basic income movement helped spark an international dialogue on how a basic income can help fix issues related to poverty, social policy, and technology, among other topics.  This conversation has caught the imaginations of citizens all over the world and has led to commitments from governments or non-profit organizations to establish basic income pilot projects in Finland, the Netherlands, Canada, Uganda, Kenya, India, and in Silicon Valley, as well as public considerations for basic income research in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, and Namibia. This dialogue is truly global, and media outlets all over the world have begun writing articles and making videos debating the merits and principles for a basic income.

Even with a defeated referendum, the basic income movement is poised to march forward toward a brighter future in the coming years: thanks, in part, to the efforts of the Swiss basic income advocates who triggered this momentous referendum.  We extend a special “thank you” from the BI News editorial team to all of those involved in the Swiss movement who have publicized basic income and worked so tirelessly on this referendum.


More information on the results themselves can be seen here.

Confédération Suisse. Votation nº 601 official results, June 5th 2016

Ethan Jacobs, “Switzerland’s Basic Income Vote Turns Finance Reform Into a Democratic Spectacle”. Inverse, February 11, 2016.

About Josh Martin

Josh Martin has written 271 articles.

Josh Martin is a recent graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science where he received an MSc in Social Policy and Planning and wrote his dissertation on the universal basic income as a possible solution to the problems facing Universal Credit in the UK. Prior to LSE, he attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and is originally from Decorah, Iowa.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.


  • Jacques MOULY

    How do you analyse this (massive) rejection by the Swiss people ?
    1 the question was too complicate to be understood ?
    2 these guys are morons
    3 we are smarter in the U.S; our proposal will be shared by all.
    4 Other (please specify)

    • Andre Coelho

      Maybe you need to add up a few more:

      5. People are poorly informed
      6. People are afraid
      7. Government applies scare tactics and misinformation

      Best regards,


  • Although I gather there were no figures in the actual referendum, my belief is that the figures used in the campaign were too high. I think the Swiss rejected the amounts, not necessarily the principle. But another thought: Ken Livingstone just brought I the London congestion charge, and it was judged a success, yet with this precedent, given a vote, Manchester voted 80% against.:

  • BorisT

    I’m not at all surprised that 76.9% of financially astute Swiss public voted against UBI. This neoliberal idea woild be a disaster for personal freedoms of the indvidual and have the multi-national capitalists rubbing their hands with glee.

    Anyway, how do I know that the internatioanl capitalists are behind the promotion of UBI? Just spend a few moments looking at where the money is coming from.

    • Andre Coelho

      Dear Boris,

      How do we know everything we look around us is not part of a grand evil plan devised by Big Brother? We don’t. And I, personally, think it’s sort of a waste of time thinking everything’s a conspiracy.

      Basic Income was born as a progressive, humanist idea, back in the XVI century. More recently, it has been promoted mainly by leftwing thinkers and social advocates, while also of some right wing ones (but less). Of course a risk exists that basic income might be captured by the extreme right, whose purpose is to bring the wealthfare state to the ground and privatize everything. That risk already exists without the basic income, and indeed we’re already experiencing that at different levels in different regions of the world.

      Our part is to promote basic income according to our sensibilities, in BIEN’s case surely not from a right wing perspective. And see that the latter capturing basic income will not come to pass.

      In short: this is politics, and basic income will be what we make of it. We are not destined to be ruled by autocratic multinational capitalist elites. So let’s remain true to ourselves and keep up this effort for a basic income which serves all of humanity.

      Best regards,


  • wonderful concept and glad to see it is gaining momentum in other countries….we need such in US also….so many struggling and too few decent-paying jobs and little job security;

    thank you for fueling this concept and may it take flight all over the world…people need
    financial security and not struggle with poverty and deprivations…

  • Well , my dad would have LOVED it – he HATED work and called people who did it “ fools “ . He died worth very little . I love work and am now in the position at age 69 , to have a decent retirement without having leeched off society .

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