Males and in management positions—The chief politicians of the 2,596 Swiss municipalities can be described in this way. For the first time, the ca. 15,000 politicians in charge were surveyed by our university institute.
Only 23 percent of the chief politicians are women. Above all, in the city councils, the percentage of women—14 percent—is very low. Women are very strongly represented in the social, health, and educational spheres, while the areas of finance, construction, municipal utilities, and security are managed almost 90% by men. It may come as a surprise that the number of women is no higher in the younger generation than in the older one. This is not due primarily to a lack of interest, but rather in the female life cycle, which causes women to decide on a political career later in life.
It is not only the gender distribution that differentiates the chief politicians from the average Swiss citizenry. More than half of the men are self-employed or in upper managerial positions. Timewise, these men are probably more flexible, and they are not forced to reduce their workload. Furthermore, they wish to reap professional benefits from their political activities. This is not the case with women, almost half of whom have no managerial responsibility. In the case of men, however, this is true for only 16 percent.
Whoever wishes to be elected to a cantonal office must belong to a political party. This is not the case on the local level. The high number of independents—40%—is surprising if one remembers that, twenty years ago, only 20 percent of municipal politicians did not belong to a party. One reason may be that many municipalities have problems recruiting enough persons to hold office, so they are increasingly on the lookout for independents. In addition, party membership numbers have been decreasing.
Although municipalities must certainly make political decisions, for example, setting the tax base, only 12 percent of the executive authorities have a political understanding of their office. Many members of the executive authority are of the opinion that municipal matters are non-political. Only in the cities do a majority see their work as political.
When Swiss films, such as, the “Herbstzeitlosen” (Late Bloomers), focus on municipal politicians, the politicians are often given the role of village king. The survey of executive politicians shows that this image contains a grain of truth: Executive politicians frequently have deep roots in the communities; they come from the established middle class, and they identify strongly with their office. In contrast to real kings, however, executive politicians are not focused on money, and they know that it is necessary to win majorities. Service to the community is uppermost, and commitment to the militia principal is in their blood.