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“The War at Home: Antiwar Protests and Congressional Voting, 1965 to 1973.”

The second path concerns the case of Switzerland at the end of the 1980s. In 1990 the Swiss voted for a nuclear moratorium of ten years, thus changing the development of nuclear energy policy in Switzerland. The results of the QCA indicate that the combined presence of a strong antinuclear public opinion and of political allies in parliament, along with the absence of antinuclear movements, led to nuclear energy policy change. The heyday of Swiss antinuclear activity began in 1975 and focused on the Kaiseraugst nuclear power plant in northern Switzerland, though interest in the issue dropped sharply after 1983 (see Rüdig 1990 for an account). Even the Chernobyl accident did not stir a sustained protest movement, and by 1988 the level of protest activities was on a downward trend. As for the configuration of power, leftist parties (mainly the Socialists) had secured about a quarter of parliamentary seats throughout the 1970s, the 1980s, and the first half of the 1990s, which meant a steady ally for the antinuclear movement. Public opinion had been quite opposed to nuclear energy (a little under half of the population was against it) even before Chernobyl, but negative opinion reached a low of in the years following the accident. In a nutshell, Switzerland had a declining and exhausted antinuclear movement, but a steady percentage of allies in parliament and a strong antinuclear public opinion. This, together with the announcement of a national referendum on nuclear energy policy scheduled for 1990, led to its institutionalization at the national level. The main locus of debate was not the occupied nuclear power plant sites, as it had been in the 1970s and early 1980s, but more formal venues, with the final “encounter” (Flam 1994) in the form of a referendum. There was thus no more room left for social movements, nor were they necessary to bring about change. Thus, we have two rather contrasting cases: one in which there is a strong antinuclear mobilization and poor political alliances, and another one in which there is a weak antinuclear mobilization and the presence of political allies. Yet, both led to a major policy change in the area of nuclear energy. In short, the main difference lies in the level of institutionalization of the conflict in the past. While in Italy the conflict had been poorly institutionalized, a sudden external shock (Chernobyl) boosted public opinion and managed to align all political parties against nuclear power. In Switzerland, the conflict already had a long history and had been gradually institutionalized (through public hearings, referenda, parliamentary debates, party politics, etc.). The support of public opinion to the antinuclear cause is the only common factor, thus supporting the hypothesis that in the field of nuclear energy policy, public opinion plays an important role.