Social Democratic Party of Switzerland

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Social Democratic Party of Switzerland
Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz
Parti socialiste suisse
Partito Socialista Svizzero
Partida Socialdemocrata de la Svizra
President Cédric Wermuth
Mattea Meyer
Members in Federal Council Alain Berset
Simonetta Sommaruga
Founded21 October 1888;133 years ago (1888-10-21)
HeadquartersTheaterplatz 4 CH-3011, Bern
Youth wing Young Socialists Switzerland
Membership (2015)30,000 [1]
Ideology Social democracy [2]
Democratic socialism [3]
Anti-capitalism [4] [5]

Support for EU Bilateral Accords [6] [7]
Political position Centre-left [3] [8] [9] to left-wing [10] [11] [12]
European affiliation Party of European Socialists
International affiliation Progressive Alliance [13]
Colours  Red
Federal Council
2 / 7
Council of States
12 / 46
National Council
39 / 200
Cantonal executives
28 / 154
Cantonal legislatures
459 / 2,609

The Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (German : Sozialdemokratische Partei der Schweiz, SP; Romansh : Partida Socialdemocrata de la Svizra), also rendered as the Swiss Socialist Party (French : Parti socialiste suisse, PS; Italian : Partito Socialista Svizzero), is a political party in Switzerland. The SP has had two representatives on the Swiss Federal Council since 1960 and received the second highest total number of votes in the 2019 Swiss federal election.


The SP 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.

Unlike most other Swiss parties, the SP is the largest pro-European party in Switzerland and supports Swiss membership of the European Union. [3] Additionally, it is strongly opposed to capitalism and maintains a long-term goal of "overcoming capitalism". [4] [5] [14] The party is a member of the Progressive Alliance [13] and an associate member of the Party of European Socialists. [15]


"The new relationship between workers and entrepreneurs", a cartoon of 1896 on bad working conditions in Swiss factories according to the Swiss labour movement in the satirical Zurich magazine Der neue Postillon Karikatur Das Verhaltnis Arbeiter Unternehmer.jpg
"The new relationship between workers and entrepreneurs", a cartoon of 1896 on bad working conditions in Swiss factories according to the Swiss labour movement in the satirical Zurich magazine Der neue Postillon

Before the establishment of the national SP, there were various 19th-century labour movements in Switzerland such as the Grütli Union, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions 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.

The party's historical archives are hosted today by the Swiss Social Archives which was in 1906 by Paul Pflüger. At a 1912 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 the 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 with the introduction of a 48-hour working week and a popular initiative on proportional elections to the National Council in the 1918 Swiss referendums which passed on 13 October 1918. In the 1919 Swiss federal election, the SP doubled its mandate from 20 to 41 members. [16]

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 Communist International. The left-wing of the party then split from the SP and founded the Communist Party of Switzerland. In 1926, the SP joined the Labour and Socialist International and continued to be a member of until 1940. [17]

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, the party managed to enter the executive at a cantonal level in 1933. Geneva was the first canton to have a socialist 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 supporting the creation of a socialist society on "free and consensual foundations" remained the party's goal.

In government

Ernst Nobs, the first SP member of the Swiss Federal Council Ernst Nobs.gif
Ernst Nobs, the first SP member of the Swiss Federal Council

In the 1943 Swiss 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  [ de ], 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. [16] In 1959, the fifth party platform was also agreed 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 Swiss 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  [ de ]).

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 Swiss 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  [ de ]. In the 1999 Swiss 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 Swiss 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 federal elections (2011 and 2015), their electoral support remained at the same level. In the Council of States, where the SP traditionally have had only a few seats, the party was able to increase its representation over the 2000s and now hold 12 out of 46 seats. In 2017, the party withdrew from the Socialist International and joined the Progressive Alliance.


Organisational structure of the SP Organisationsstruktur SP Schweiz.svg
Organisational structure of the SP

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


The SP's positions in the Swiss political spectrum in 2007 Swiss party politics 2007 en.png
The SP's positions in the Swiss political spectrum in 2007

The SP supports classical social-democratic policies, as well as some democratic socialist ones. To that rule, the SP stands for a government offering strong public services. The SP is against far-reaching economic liberalism and is 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 liberalisation 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. 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. The party 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 as 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.

The SP has common environmentalist policies with the Green Party of Switzerland 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 power.

Electoral performance

Percentages of the SP at district level in 2011 CHbezirke 110211 SP.png
Percentages of the SP at district level in 2011
Strongest in urban areas, the SP's support is spread across the country as they hold roughly one-fifth of seats in cantonal parliaments, but are the largest party in only two, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft (coloured red above) Switzerland largest parties in cantonal parliaments.svg
Strongest in urban areas, the SP's support is spread across the country as they hold roughly one-fifth of seats in cantonal parliaments, but are the largest party in only two, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft (coloured red above)

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 2015 Swiss federal election, the party won 18.8% of the popular vote and 43 out of 200 seats. [18]

National Council

ElectionVotes %Seats+/–Rank
1890 N/A3.6 (#5)
1 / 147
Increase2.svg 15th
1893 N/A5.9 (#5)
1 / 147
Steady2.svg5th Steady2.svg
1896 25,3046.8 (#4)
2 / 147
Increase2.svg 14th Increase2.svg
1899 35,4889.6 (#4)
4 / 147
Increase2.svg 24th Steady2.svg
1902 51,33812.6 (#3)
7 / 167
Increase2.svg 34th Steady2.svg
1905 60,30814.7 (#3)
2 / 167
Decrease2.svg 55th Decrease2.svg
1908 70,00317.6 (#3)
7 / 167
Increase2.svg 54th Decrease2.svg
1911 80,05020.0 (#2)
15 / 189
Increase2.svg 83rd Increase2.svg
1914 34,20410.1 (#3)
19 / 189
Increase2.svg 33rd Steady2.svg
1917 158,45030.8 (#2)
20 / 189
Increase2.svg 23rd Steady2.svg
1919 175,29223.5 (#2)
41 / 189
Increase2.svg 212nd Increase2.svg
1922 170,97423.3 (#2)
43 / 198
Increase2.svg 23rd Decrease2.svg
1925 192,20825.8 (#2)
49 / 198
Increase2.svg 62nd Increase2.svg
1928 220,14127.4 (#1)
50 / 198
Increase2.svg 12nd Steady2.svg
1931 247,94628.7 (#1)
49 / 187
Decrease2.svg 12nd Steady2.svg
1935 255,84328.0 (#1)
50 / 187
Increase2.svg 11st Increase2.svg
1939 160,37725.9 (#1)
45 / 187
Decrease2.svg 52nd Decrease2.svg
1943 251,57628.6 (#1)
56 / 194
Increase2.svg 111st Increase2.svg
1947 251,62526.2 (#1)
48 / 194
Decrease2.svg 82nd Decrease2.svg
1951 249,85726.0 (#1)
49 / 196
Increase2.svg 12nd Steady2.svg
1955 263,66427.0 (#1)
53 / 196
Increase2.svg 41st Increase2.svg
1959 259,13926.4 (#1)
51 / 196
Decrease2.svg 21st Steady2.svg [lower-alpha 1]
1963 256,06326.6 (#1)
53 / 200
Increase2.svg 21st Steady2.svg
1967 233,87323.5 (#1)
50 / 200
Decrease2.svg 31st Steady2.svg
1971 [19] 452,19522.9 (#1)
46 / 200
Decrease2.svg 42nd Decrease2.svg
1975 [19] 477,12524.9 (#1)
55 / 200
Increase2.svg 92nd Steady2.svg
1979 [19] 443,79424.4 (#1)
51 / 200
Decrease2.svg 42nd Steady2.svg [lower-alpha 1]
1983 [19] 444,36522.8 (#2)
47 / 200
Decrease2.svg 42nd Steady2.svg
1987 [19] 353,33418.4 (#3)
41 / 200
Decrease2.svg 63rd Decrease2.svg
1991 [19] 373,66418.5 (#2)
41 / 200
Steady2.svg 02nd Increase2.svg
1995 [19] 410,13621.8 (#1)
54 / 200
Increase2.svg 132nd Steady2.svg
1999 [19] 438,55522.5 (#2)
51 / 200
Decrease2.svg 32nd Steady2.svg
2003 [19] 490,39223.3 (#2)
52 / 200
Increase2.svg 12nd Steady2.svg
2007 [19] 450,30819.5 (#2)
43 / 200
Decrease2.svg 92nd Steady2.svg
2011 [19] 451,23618.7 (#2)
46 / 200
Increase2.svg 32nd Steady2.svg
2015 [18] 475,07118.8 (#2)
43 / 200
Decrease2.svg 32nd Steady2.svg
2019 408,12816.8 (#2)
39 / 200
Decrease2.svg 42nd Steady2.svg

Party strength over time

Percentage of the total vote for the SP in federal elections, 1971–2019 [20]
Uri* a *23.0*******21.5*22.3
Appenzell A.Rh.37.440.1*23.6**21.929.619.9**28.6*
Appenzell I.Rh.**********20.318.18.7
St. Gallen14.615.118.016.311.413.
Jura b b *17.825.528.832.434.234.236.930.823.727.0
1. ^a * indicates that the party was not on the ballot in this canton.
2. ^b It was part of the Canton of Bern until 1979.


1888–1889 Alexander Reichel
1890–1891 Albert Steck
1892–1894 Eugen Wullschleger
1894–1896 Wilhelm Fürholz
1897 Karl Zgraggen
1898 Paul Brandt
1898–1901 Otto Lang
1901–1902 Joseph Albisser
1902–1908 Gottfried Reimann
1909–1910 Eduard Kessler
1911 Hans Näher
1912–1916 Fritz Studer
1916–1917 Emil Klöti
1918 Jakob Gschwend
1919 Gustav Müller
1919–1936 Ernst Reinhard
1937–1952 Hans Oprecht
1953–1962 Walther Bringolf
1962–1970 Fritz Grütter
1970–1974 Arthur Schmid
1974–1990 Helmut Hubacher
1990–1997 Peter Bodenmann
1997–2000 Ursula Koch
2000–2004 Christiane Brunner
2004–2008 Hans-Jürg Fehr
2008–2020 Christian Levrat
2020—present Cédric Wermuth
Mattea Meyer

Members of the Swiss Federal Council

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

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