ZURICH—Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a controversial initiative that would have guaranteed all Swiss residents a minimum income on which to live.
The Basic Income Initiative received just 23.1% of the vote in Sunday’s referendum, compared with 76.9% against. The outcome was never in doubt, with the government, businesses and many trade unions lining up in opposition and recent polls suggesting the public was firmly against the idea.
Rather, the significance of Sunday’s vote—which the plan’s backers ensured by collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures—was that it gave a high-profile airing to an idea that has gained traction among economists in Europe and the U.S. in recent years.
Though the monthly amount wasn’t spelled out, it was expected to have been around 2,500 Swiss francs ($ 2,560) per adult, with a smaller subsidy for children, without regard to employment, education, disability, age or even wealth.
Supporters said the policy would provide security at a time of rapid technological change. Backers also said it would simplify the patchwork of agencies charged with overseeing pensions, welfare, disability and other support, saving the government money while freeing people from the bureaucracies of means-tested programs.
Opponents, meanwhile, latched on to two critiques: cost and fairness. The 200 billion franc price tag would have required large tax increases, even if money was saved through reductions in social spending in other areas. And critics said some means testing would be needed to make sure government support was channeled to those who needed it most.
Che Wagner, a co-initiator of the basic income proposal, vowed after Sunday’s results to press on. “It is a very satisfying result for us,” he said in an e-mail, adding that his own prediction was the initiative would only get around 15% support. Nearly 70% of respondents in a survey released Sunday said they expect to be voting on basic income again in the future.
“The debate just started,” Mr. Wagner said.
Write to Brian Blackstone at [email protected]