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2020 Credit Suisse Worry Barometer: The coronavirus pandemic is now the top concern in Switzerland; ensuring vital supplies is seen as the most important security issue

Credit Suisse releases the results of its latest survey on the worries of Swiss voters, their sense of identity, and the level of trust in various actors

The coronavirus pandemic and its consequences rank at the top of the list of Swiss concerns in 2020. This is the first time in the history of the Worry Barometer that an entirely new issue has so clearly topped the list of people's worries. Following in second and third place are Old Age and Survivors' Insurance (AHV)/retirement provision and the issue of unemployment. Concerns about protecting the environment and the climate rank fourth, unchanged from last year. These are some of the findings of the most recent Credit Suisse Worry Barometer.

As in previous years, Credit Suisse commissioned the research institute gfs.bern in 2020 to conduct a survey to determine the issues that worry Swiss citizens the most and to find out what they consider to be the key features of Swiss identity. Respondents were asked to list their top five concerns and, with 51 percent of respondents naming the coronavirus pandemic, this new issue ranks first among people's worries. AHV/retirement provision (37 percent) came second, followed by (youth) unemployment (31 percent) – a concern that is likely related to worries about the ramifications of the pandemic.

According to Manuel Rybach, Global Head of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Credit Suisse, "More than half of all respondents list the coronavirus pandemic as one of their top concerns. This is the first time since the Worry Barometer survey was first conducted 44 years ago that a new issue has become the focus of such serious concern. By comparison: In 2001, the year of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, 27 percent of respondents named 'terror' as one of Switzerland's greatest worries. Given the far-reaching effects of the coronavirus on every important aspect of Swiss life, it is easy to understand why it plays such a prominent role in this year's Worry Barometer."

For the past two years, environmental issues and climate change have been among the top five concerns in Switzerland, and in the year of the coronavirus pandemic they still rank fourth (29 percent), as they did last year. Next, in fifth place, is the topic of foreigners and immigration (28 percent, -2 pp). When asked which problem needs to be addressed most urgently, respondents again mention the pandemic and its effects most often (18 percent), followed by environmental protection/climate change (12 percent, unchanged from last year).

"Aside from the pandemic, the list of worries is quite similar to 2019. Problems that needed to be addressed according to last year's survey are still considered urgent in 2020. However, priorities have changed: While topics such as retirement provision, environmental protection and foreigners and immigration are still of crucial importance to the Swiss population, they are perceived to present no more urgent issues than in the past, or in some cases less urgent. In contrast, unemployment is seen as a more pressing problem – doubtless also because of growing fear of an economic crisis. Yet this year, too, the level of concern about unemployment is considerably lower than in 2017 and the few years before that, and not nearly as high as in the 1990s, when worry reached record levels," says Lukas Golder, Co-director of gfs.bern, which has conducted the Credit Suisse Worry Barometer survey since 1995.

Anticipated consequences of the pandemic
When asked what consequences of the coronavirus pandemic will still be felt in Switzerland three years from now, 78 percent of respondents indicate that they expect to see higher unemployment numbers, and 59 percent anticipate an unfavorable impact on retirement provision. This underlines that overall, the pandemic is a major factor in people's worries in 2020. Most people also expect there to be negative effects on tourism in Switzerland, on the monitoring of Swiss citizens and on the country's exports until 2023. However, respondents are not equally pessimistic on all possible consequences of the pandemic. For example, respondents believe that the overall effects of the pandemic on global political and economic cooperation will be neutral, and they tend to be optimistic about impacts on the banking sector and healthcare. As for the future of the working environment (digitalization of the workplace, including working from home), a majority of Swiss people believe that the medium-term impact of the pandemic will be mainly positive.

Supply security is crucial
When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the spring of 2020, it laid bare the vulnerability of today's globalized society and its global production processes and supply chains. The crisis is providing a new perspective on what security means in today's world. When asked about the crucial aspects of Switzerland's national security, respondents mention most frequently a secure energy supply (an average of 8.1 points on a scale of 0 to 10), self-sufficiency in medical products (8.0) and a reliable supply of goods (7.9), all of which are aspects of supply security. This is in keeping with the fact that a large majority (87 percent) is somewhat or fully in agreement with the idea that certain elements of the production process – for example for medical products or spare parts – should be brought back to Switzerland with government support, which would increase supply security, even if it is not cost-effective.

Ranking next are two areas that fall under the category of securing Switzerland's prosperity: A secure social welfare system (7.9) and economic security (7.8). Least important, according to Swiss voters, is military security, although it too receives a score of 6.1. However, the security aspects regarded by respondents as most crucial are not necessarily the areas in which they would like to see the most government investment going forward. In their view, an even greater priority than investing in supply security (energy supply: named as the top priority by 13 percent of respondents; self-sufficiency in the supply of medical products: 12 percent) is to increase government investments to address environmental risks (14 percent). Only one percent of Swiss citizens would prioritize future government investments in data protection, anti-terrorism efforts or military security.

Interest in politics continues to grow
Since 2015, interest in political issues has steadily increased in Switzerland, with 85 percent of respondents describing themselves as very or somewhat interested in politics. This tops the record set in 2019 (the question was added to the survey in 1995). "The important role political institutions have played in combating the pandemic has probably contributed to this increase. Other possible factors are global issues, such as the presidential election campaign in the United States, climate change and political movements surrounding issues like racism and gender equality," says Lukas Golder. Swiss voters also appear to have a more favorable view of political actors than in previous years. Thirty-seven percent of respondents believe that politicians often fail to do their job adequately, a drop of 9 percentage points. And the share of respondents who say that this is rarely the case has increased to 53 percent (+11 pp over last year).

Greater trust in political institutions
After a sharp decline in trust in practically every administrative and political institution last year, confidence is increasing somewhat in 2020. For the third time in a row, the police force enjoys the highest level of trust of all of the institutions included in the survey (70 percent of the respondents say that they trust the police). Ranking second, for the first time, is the Federal Council (68 percent, a striking increase of 18 percentage points). Confidence has also increased in the Federal Assembly (Council of States: 51 percent, +7 pp; National Council: 48 percent, +8 pp) and public administration (48 percent, +8 pp). During the coronavirus crisis, the Swiss army has been mobilized to a level not seen since World War II. Yet in contrast to the increased confidence enjoyed by the Federal Council, the deployment of the Swiss armed forces to combat the crisis has not been reflected in a higher level of trust. On the contrary: Trust in the army (48 percent) is at its lowest level since 2012. Confidence in the church (21 percent), the EU (19 percent) and free newspapers (17 percent) remains low.

As Lukas Golder of gfs.bern says, "The encouragingly high levels of trust in government institutions can probably be explained to some extent by the fact that Switzerland was relatively successful at weathering the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, and when the survey was conducted in the summer, the number of infections was very low. The level of confidence in the Federal Council currently depends heavily on the assessment of how the pandemic is being managed."

People still feel good about their personal economic circumstances
At the time of the survey in July and August 2020, a majority (65 percent) of voters described their personal economic circumstances as good or very good, while another 27 percent described them as satisfactory. Overall, this is a slight improvement over 2019. Looking forward, a clear majority (81 percent) of voters remain optimistic that they will be able to maintain (68 percent) or exceed (13 percent) their current level of well-being. It is striking, though, that there has been a significant increase since 2019 in the percentage of people who expect their personal economic circumstances to worsen or who express uncertainty about their future situation, from 13 percent to 19 percent. This is the highest percentage since this question was added to the survey in 1995. Similarly, a larger share of respondents than ever before (11 percent) is worried about losing their job in the next 12 months. This percentage, while still relatively low, is twice as high as in 2012. As Manuel Rybach observes, "It is difficult to predict the medium- to long-term economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, at least, Switzerland has done quite well relative to other countries. This is thanks primarily to the rapid, efficient measures taken to cushion the pandemic's negative economic effects. Short-time compensation, along with the COVID-19 loans that policymakers and banks worked together to make available in record time, have had a rapid and immediate impact."

Overview: The most important insights from the 2020 Credit Suisse Worry Barometer

  1. Top concern: The coronavirus pandemic and its consequences have now become the biggest concern in Switzerland, with 51 percent of respondents ranking this topic among their five top concerns. What political objective should be accorded the highest priority? Here, too, the most common answer is the pandemic. This is the first time in the history of the Worry Barometer that an entirely new issue so clearly tops the list of concerns.
  2. AHV/retirement provision and environmental protection: With 37 percent of respondents naming it among their top 5 issues, the topic of AHV/retirement provision ranks second on the list of worries. The issue of youth unemployment and unemployment in general comes next (31 percent). Concerns about protecting the environment/climate change remain in fourth place with 29 percent of respondents naming them. When people are asked what problem is most pressing, though, this issue ranks second (12 percent).
  3. Consequences of the pandemic: The pandemic is likely to continue to influence how people perceive worries in the years to come. When asked what consequences of the coronavirus pandemic will still be felt in Switzerland three years from now, 78 percent of respondents say that they expect to see higher unemployment numbers, and 59 percent anticipate an unfavorable impact on retirement provision. In the medium-term, the Swiss expect the pandemic's influence on the future of the working environment to be largely positive.
  4. Security: When asked about the most crucial aspects of Switzerland's security, voters focus particularly on supply security, and specifically on a secure supply of energy, self-sufficiency in the supply of medical products, and a reliable supply of goods. The least important aspect, in their view, is military security.
  5. Interest in politics: The Swiss people's interest in political issues continues to grow. Breaking the record set in 2019, 85 percent of people describe themselves as very or somewhat interested in politics (this question was first included in the survey in 1995).
  6. Political institutions: Confidence gains were seen for the Federal Council (+18 pp, now in second place in the confidence rankings) as well as for the Council of States (+7 pp), the National Council (+8 pp) and public administration (+8 pp). The police force garnered the highest confidence out of all institutions included in the survey (70 percent of those surveyed expressed confidence).
  7. Respondents' personal economic situation: At 92 percent, the share of respondents who consider their personal economic situation to be "satisfactory," "good" or even "very good" remains unchanged from last year. However, the share of respondents who anticipate that their individual economic situations will deteriorate or who express uncertainty about their future rose to 19 percent, a new high. Responses to the question about job security set another record, as 11 percent of respondents are worried that they will lose their jobs in the next 12 months.

The top ten concerns of Swiss voters

This year's top ten worries, trending since 2006
As % of voting population

Credit Suisse Worry Barometer: A representative survey
What are the greatest concerns of people in Switzerland? How much confidence do they have in political, business and social leaders? For the past 44 years, Credit Suisse has conducted an annual Worry Barometer survey to examine precisely these issues. With the Worry Barometer, Credit Suisse seeks to contribute to the public debate on issues of socio-political relevance. On behalf of Credit Suisse, in July and August 2020 the research institute gfs.bern asked 1,798 voters across Switzerland about their concerns. The statistical sampling error is ±2.0 percentage points.

The detailed analyses of the study, including information graphics, can be found at: www.credit-suisse.com/worrybarometer

Please use the term "Credit Suisse Worry Barometer" when referring to these results.