Switzerland named voting world champion in new democracy study

Switzerland named voting world champion in new democracy study

A new study conducted by the Centre for Democracy in Aarau (ZDA) has found that when it comes to elections and referendums, no one likes a poll more than Switzerland. Since the modern Swiss constitution was signed in 1848, citizens have voted on national issues more than 600 times, not to mention the thousands of initiatives that have been proposed in Swiss cantons and local councils (Gemeinden).

Swiss people have visited the polls over 6.800 times since 1848

According to the study, reported by SRF, Switzerland has voted in national polls 689 times since 1848 - the most in the world in front of New Zealand and Liechtenstein. When cantonal and local referendums are taken into account, residents of the alpine nation have been to the polls more than 6.800 times since modern Switzerland was born.

Speaking to the national broadcaster, the ZDA said that many countries are starting to come around to the Swiss system and run referendums of their own. As of 2023, 70 percent of countries around the world have run some form of national referendum.

Differences remain between Swiss referendums and those overseas

When asked why referendums are becoming more popular, Robin Gut, co-author of the study and political scientist at the University of Zurich, told SRF he suspects “that the powerful around the world have an increasing need to involve the people. You want to show that you listen." 

He added that unlike Switzerland - where any Swiss person is able to initiate a referendum, given they have enough signatures - most polls in other countries are used to “justify” or guide top-down decisions made by lawmakers - the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, for example. Sadly, the votes are also used to justify authoritarian moves, with Gut noting that their data shows that autocracies run more referendums - both fair and rigged - than democratic states do.

Gut added that differences also remain regarding what topics are covered. “In Switzerland, they have a wealth of topics that are voted on: from the COVID Law to tax and climate protection. Abroad, this range of topics is much narrower,” he noted, arguing that instead of embedding referendums into the political decision process itself as Switzerland does, most polls overseas seek to fundamentally reform how the government is organised.

Which countries have held the most votes in the last 123 years?

In all, here are the countries that have held the most national referendums since 1900:

  1. Switzerland (622)
  2. New Zealand (117)
  3. Liechtenstein (115)
  4. Northern Mariana Islands (110)
  5. Italy (81)
  6. Ecuador (70)
  7. Azerbaijan (69)
  8. The Federated States of Micronesia (67)
  9. The Marshall Islands (63)
  10. Palau (58)

For more information, check out the official study (in German).

Thumb image credit: olrat /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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