Direct-democratic campaigns on health policies in Switzerland: The influence of evaluation results

The cumulative dissertation analyses the use of evaluation results in direct-democratic campaigns on health policies and is supervised by Prof. Dr. Fritz Sager. The research is part of the SynEval-project „Policy Evaluation in the Swiss Political System – Roots and Fruits“ funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation in which the universities of Lucerne, Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich and Berne want to show how policy evaluations in Switzerland interact with the political system.

Switzerland has the highest amount of popular votes in Europe and is said to be a role model for direct democracy. Before the issue of a referendum or an initiative is put up to a popular vote, political actors form ad hoc coalitions for or against the issue and engage in a direct-democratic campaign. Campaigns aim at mobilising and persuading voters for or against the issue. To this effect, political actors frame their arguments, that is they select some aspects of the issue that allows them to promote a particular interpretation and evaluation of the problem. Naturally, we would expect that political actors include evidence to persuade voters of their position.

Research on direct-democratic campaigns in the last decade has concentrated on opinion formation, the role of the media as well as on the strategies of the political actors. There research on the use of evaluation results in persuasion is sparse and it is restricted to the effects of the frames on the recipients. Existing research on evidence-based policy making in Switzerland mainly investigates the use of evaluation results in the administration and parliament. There is no research analyzing the use of evaluation results when the decision on a policy measure is taken by a plebiscite. This PhD project aims at reconciling these two secluded research traditions by showing in which campaigns and in which form evaluation results are used, to what extent frames in direct-democratic campaigns are based on evidence and to what extent evaluation results are used in the opinion formation process.

The question that leads the research project is: How do evaluation results influence the different processes that take place during a campaign? More precisely the dissertation aims at answering the following research questions:

  • How are evaluation results framed for persuasion in the campaign?
  • How are evaluation results transported to the voters in the public debate?
  • How are evaluation results used to form the opinion of voters?

The analysis focuses on issue-specific votes in the policy field health. It consists of two analytical parts: first, the interest is to produce an overview of the campaign materials that use evaluation results and the characteristics of these materials. The overview will cover all the national and subnational votes that have taken place between 2000-2012. The overview of the first part will enable the selecting of specific cases for in-depth case studies in a second step. The in-depth case studies concentrate on the impact of the use of evaluation results on campaigns.

The generation of the hypotheses is based on a theoretical framework of evaluation influence including concepts drawn from framing theory, political communication and political psychology.

The research design includes

  1. a descriptive analysis of references to evaluation results in the public debate that will produce a systematic overview of the empirical field,
  2. a comparative case study analysis of campaigns using evidence and campaigns that do not use evidence in order to capture the impact of the use of evidence on framing and, finally,
  3. a cross-sectional analysis of reasons for vote choice that allows to shed a light on the use of evidence in opinion formation.

In examining the relation between evaluation results and direct-democratic campaigns, this subproject contributes to the goal of the overall SynEval-project, which analyzes the relationship between evaluation and the Swiss political system in general.

This dissertation is beeing written by Iris Stucki under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Fritz Sager.