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Credit Suisse Worry Barometer 2022: Big shake-up among the top ten, with environment and pensions now the two main concerns
The environment was the number-one concern for the Swiss population in 2022 – although in percentage terms this was unchanged from last year. The environment was followed in second and third place by AHV/retirement provision and energy issues, respectively, while the pandemic was no longer among the ten most important concerns. In addition, the war in Ukraine is leaving its mark on Switzerland too, with Optimism for the future declining significantly. Read on for more from this year's Credit Suisse Worry Barometer.
On behalf of Credit Suisse, research institute gfs.bern surveyed Swiss voters once again this year about their worries and the country's identifying characteristics. At 39%, environmental pollution (environmental protection, climate change, environmental disasters) is Switzerland's new number-one concern (respondents were each asked to name their five top concerns). This figure is the same as last year; however, the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic – which easily topped the list in both 2020 (51%) and 2021 (40%) – is now regarded as an everyday problem at 13%, means that the environment has moved up to the number-one spot. The topic of AHV/retirement provision lies in second place at 37%.
Manuel Rybach, Global Head of Public Policy and Regulatory Foresight at Credit Suisse, said: "The results of this year's Worry Barometer survey were particularly eagerly awaited given that in an era of inflation, war, and pandemic we might have expected multiple 'front-runners.' Climate change, retirement provision, and energy now lead the field in 2022, while Swiss voters' optimism about the future has clearly deteriorated. In other words, the impact of recent economic and geopolitical developments is already being felt."
War in Ukraine taking its toll
But what affect has Russia's invasion of Ukraine – which began on February 24 – had on the Worry Barometer? Although the war is directly cited as a concern by only 20% of the population (eighth place), there are at least three other top worries associated with the conflict. Concern about energy issues, for instance, is up significantly at 25% (+11 percentage points, pp) and now ranks third on the list of worries – in percentage terms on a par with concerns about the shape of relations with Europe and the EU. For the first time, uncertainty about the supply of energy, medicines, and food was mentioned by 21% of respondents (seventh place). While the main concern is primarily about ensuring the supply of energy in uncertain times and in winter, anxiety about energy issues is likely to affect what Switzerland's energy strategy will look like in future, including where potential compromises may be required in terms of environment, nature conservation, and technology, such as nuclear power. Inflation (fifth place, 24%) is another new entrant among the top five concerns. Healthcare – traditionally a key concern – is also cited by 24%, having been as high as 41% in 2018 and 2019. Finally, in ninth and tenth place are the two concerns involving migration (foreigners and refugees/asylum issues).
"This year's Worry Barometer is characterized by the emergence of new issues of insecurity in connection with the war in Ukraine. These include energy questions, security of supply, and inflation. There seems to be a degree of anxiety among the population on these issues: Although the situation currently remains acceptable to most people, awareness of these issues is increasing significantly. What is also striking this year is that so-called materialist issues such as security are given higher priority, while post-materialist topics including gender equality are more likely to fade into the background at the moment," says Cloé Jans, Operations Manager of gfs.bern, which has been compiling the Credit Suisse Worry Barometer since 1995.
Concern about the economy and standards of living – though not unemployment
Swiss voters are less optimistic about the (economic) future than was the case only a couple of years ago. However, this is not primarily down to fear of losing their job: On the contrary, unemployment has fallen out of the top ten concerns for the first time since 1988. Rather, the uncertainty revolves around the supply situation as well as whether and how the standard of living to which people are accustomed can be maintained amid the current circumstances and multiple crises. Voters' assessment of their own economic situation does not yet show any deviation versus previous years, with 65% (+0 pp) of respondents describing it as good or very good, and only 6% (+0 pp) as bad or very bad. However, a look at the coming 12 months shows a significantly different picture: No less than 19% (+9 pp) fear a worsening of their personal circumstances – the highest percentage in the survey's 27-year history.
Against this background, it is reassuring to note that, at the same time, trust in the three important institutions of the Federal Council (68%), police (67%), and the Federal Supreme Court (66%) is broad-based and stable. At a lower level, the same applies to the other institutions mentioned in the survey, such as the Swiss National Bank, Council of States, National Council, and political parties – indeed there is even evidence of a slight upward trend here. Although pride in being Swiss has tended to dip slightly, it remains very high at 77% (–1 pp). The armed forces have been the biggest gainers in terms of confidence (+8 pp to 48%), reflecting an increased need for security in uncertain geopolitical times.
Swiss identity under pressure – Europe pulling together
Along with direct democracy, federalism, and the militia concept, neutrality is one of the main identifying characteristics and a pillar of Swiss politics. When asked about various factors that threaten Switzerland's identity, external pressure, in its different forms, plays a significant role for many respondents. In concrete terms, Switzerland's dependence on the global economy (71%), the EU and its problems (67%), and immigration (60%) are increasingly seen as threats to Switzerland's identity. 68% feel that Switzerland's core principles are threatened by the fact that Western values are generally under pressure in the new geopolitical tug of war. But voters also point to home-grown risks that weigh on the nation's shoulders – above all, the decline in volunteer work (79%) and the inability of politicians to find viable solutions to problems (78%).
Two years of pandemic and more than six months of war in Ukraine have changed Europe and Switzerland's view of the European Union (EU). 32% of Swiss voters believe the events of the last 12 months have strengthened the EU. This does not seem to be very much at first glance, especially since 57% think the EU has been weakened. However, the trend shows that three times more people are now reaching a positive verdict than in 2019 (10%). In addition, 52% think the war in Ukraine has welded Europe together as a community of values.
Europe – quo vadis?
In May 2021, the Federal Council announced it was unilaterally ending the talks – which date back to 2014 – about an institutional framework agreement between Switzerland and the EU. Now that some time has elapsed, what do voters think about this policy decision? The Credit Suisse Worry Barometer shows that 49% (–2 pp versus 2021) of voters consider the decision to be fairly/very correct, while 42% (+2 pp) think the opposite. Of the eight options available for regulating future relations with the EU, the negotiation of an institutional framework agreement is still clearly favored – and in percentage terms is on a par with further development of the Bilateral Agreements. In second place – and representing a change from the previous year – is accession to the EEA, which is now considered a better route than suspending the Bilateral Agreements without further development. Termination of the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons is still mentioned as a possible solution, while rejection of the Bilateral Agreements – or indeed a special relationship with the EU – is considered just as implausible an option as EU accession.
In the eyes of respondents, therefore, discussions on an institutional framework agreement must continue given that 76% consider stable relations between Switzerland and the EU to be important. The same figure is arrived at for the Bilateral Agreements themselves, meaning a clear majority consider it important to achieve a breakthrough in negotiations with the EU. Many are looking to the Federal Council in particular, with 40% saying responsibility lies with the national government and 21% with the Swiss delegates in Brussels. Only 14% consider the EU to be chiefly responsible. Altogether, therefore, a clear majority of 61% of eligible voters believe that the ball is now primarily in the Swiss government's court when it comes to developing ties with the EU. This opinion has been voiced by members of all political parties.
Moving away from a niche policy
Voters' assessment of their own country remains positive by international standards, although Switzerland's vulnerability has been laid bare by the pandemic and the war. For 92% (–3 pp) of voters, the Swiss economy is in fairly/very good shape compared with other countries – a very high figure. Indeed, this figure has only been lower once since 2012 – namely in 2017 (89%). In addition, 54% of those surveyed still believe Switzerland can compensate for more difficult access to the EU market through increased trade relations with third countries. By contrast, this year only 36% (–9 pp) say they are in favor of Switzerland having an independent economic niche policy compared with 53% in 2020. A majority of the population (52%) believes negotiating clout on economic issues can be improved by moving closer towards a unified EU position.
Manuel Rybach comments: "The results of this year's Worry Barometer reveal a nuanced opinion of Switzerland's role in the world. While neutrality remains important, a go-it-alone approach is not the solution for a majority of Swiss voters. Instead, they believe solutions to political problems must be found internationally and by means of greater involvement on the part of Switzerland. Fewer respondents now believe Switzerland is immune from global problems and when it comes to climate policy in particular, they increasingly want the country to play a leading role."
Overview: Key findings from Credit Suisse Worry Barometer 2022
A new top concern: Environmental protection/climate change is now top of the list of concerns for Swiss voters in 2022 – although in percentage terms it is unchanged from last year. This is followed in second and third place by AHV/retirement provision and energy, respectively, while the pandemic no longer features among the top ten worries.
New factors of uncertainty: This year's Worry Barometer is characterized by the emergence of new factors of uncertainty in connection with the war in Ukraine. These include energy (third place), rising inflation (fifth), and supply security (eighth). Post-materialist topics, to some extent, are now fading into the background.
Gloomier outlook: Optimism about the future, which had been strong up to now, is crumbling among Swiss voters. With a view to the next 12 months, 19% (+9 pp) fear a deterioration in their personal economic situation – the highest percentage in the survey's 27-year history.
Confidence in institutions: Confidence in Switzerland's institutions, which was to some extent lost during the pandemic, has returned in 2022. Confidence in the three important institutions of the Federal Council (68%), police (67%), and Federal Supreme Court (66%) is broad-based and stable. Confidence in the Swiss National Bank and Swiss armed forces has also increased significantly.
Identity under pressure: When asked about various factors that endanger Switzerland's identity, dependence on the global economy (71%), the EU and its problems (67%), and also immigration (60%) are increasingly considered threats. 68% feel that Switzerland's core principles are threatened by the fact that Western values are generally under pressure in the new geopolitical tug-of-war. However, domestic problems are also lurking – one example being the decline in volunteering (79%).
Relations with Europe: Out of eight options available for regulating future relations with the EU, the negotiation of an institutional framework agreement is still clearly favored – in percentage terms on a par with further development of the Bilateral Agreements. This shows that a clear majority consider it important to achieve a breakthrough in the negotiations with the EU. Many are looking to the Federal Council in particular, with 40% seeing the Swiss government as responsible and only 14% thinking the ball lies in the EU's court.
Credit Suisse Worry Barometer: representative survey
What are the biggest worries for Swiss voters? How much confidence do they have in political, business, and social leaders? For the past 46 years, Credit Suisse has conducted an annual Worry Barometer survey to examine precisely these issues. With the Worry Barometer, Credit Suisse aims to contribute to the public debate on issues of socio-political relevance. From July to August 2022, the research institute gfs.bern surveyed 1,774 eligible voters across Switzerland on behalf of Credit Suisse. The statistical sampling error is ±2.3 percentage points.
Detailed analyses of the survey, including infographics, can be found at www.credit-suisse.com/worrybarometer as well as in our special publication "Kompass für die Schweiz" (download link on the website).
Please use the term "Credit Suisse Worry Barometer" or #WorryBarometer when mentioning the results on social media.