Coming together in the crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Switzerland more profoundly than anything else in recent decades. But this new worry, which tops the lists of people's concerns, is also bringing the Swiss together.
Never before in the history of the Credit Suisse Worry Barometer, dating back to 1976, has an issue appearing for the first time in the survey ranked as highly as the COVID-19 pandemic on the list of people's worries. A majority of respondents believe that the pandemic is one of the top five challenges facing the country. At the same time, it has prompted an unofficial redefinition of our security needs, which have clearly increased. Yet 51 percent is not a record, historically speaking. A significant minority of people still find it difficult to assess this new phenomenon and to acknowledge its potential as a threat. "There are also striking differences between specific population groups," notes Cloé Jans, operations manager at the research institute gfs.bern. "People over the age of 70 and the highly educated are much less concerned about coronavirus than the middle-aged and those with a lower education level."
How will the pandemic affect the future? Considerably more than 50 percent of voters are worried about negative trends in unemployment and retirement provision between now and 2023. Effects on tourism, the monitoring of people's data and the export economy are also seen as problematic. "Despite all the difficulties, however, there are signs of optimism in some areas. With respect to the workplace, people see opportunities when it comes to working from home and digitalization; most are also optimistic about healthcare, the banking sector and global cooperation on matters of economics and policy," says Jans. "The Swiss people are determined to emerge from the crisis even stronger. Three out of four voters believe the pandemic shows that, when Switzerland is under pressure, it always stands together and finds appropriate solutions."
The job is not yet finished
While COVID-19 is dominating the discussion, we must not lose sight of the fact that the major reforms from before the crisis are still necessary and the urgency of these reforms has barely diminished in the eyes of the respondents. Since 2017, the primary concern in Switzerland – aside from issues related to the pandemic – has been to safeguard Old Age and Survivors' Insurance (37 percent, −10 pp). According to 8 percent of the population, this is the problem that must be solved first.
The only one of the top ten problems that has become less prominent is the issue of foreigners, which has declined two years running, to 28 percent (-2 pp). By contrast, concerns about social security (17 percent, +3 pp) and about unemployment/youth unemployment (31 percent, +5 pp) have increased for the second time in a row, although these increases have not made up for the dramatic decrease in 2018. After steadily growing since 2015, awareness of issues of environmental protection and climate change has stagnated at the level of 29 percent. For more than 12 percent of the population, however, this is the most urgent problem of all. Fifty-seven percent (−6 pp) of the population agrees that Switzerland should play a leading role globally in climate policy and actively influence that policy through guidelines and legislation. Yet just as many people (57 percent, −4 pp) believe that other issues are more important than climate policy. This therefore continues to be a polarizing topic.
Health care is still a major concern. Relative to last year, however, there has been a clear decline to 28 percent (−13 pp) in worry about health care and health insurance plans. This is probably not only because premiums have not dramatically increased, but also because people attach little priority to cutting healthcare costs in the midst of a global pandemic. All the same, there is no reason to believe that the need for reforms in the healthcare system has been met.
Greater interest in politics
While it may have seemed that people have been experiencing a certain amount of political fatigue, the Worry Barometer shows that this is not the case. The climate issue, the COVID-19 pandemic and perhaps also recent developments in political culture, such as Donald Trump's style of communicating via Twitter, have caused attention to politics to reach record levels. Whereas only 55 percent of the population was interested in politics in 2013, that figure has grown to 85 percent, and interest is intensifying: 43 percent of people (+12 pp) are "very interested." That increased interest, as well as some controversial issues, may have contributed to the high voter turnout in September 2020.
When asked with which entity they identify most, 61 percent of respondents list their country either first or second; the increase in this percentage relative to 2019 is probably related to our collective experience of the pandemic. Seventy-five percent of voters are proud to be Swiss. That is a large number, but the percentage was considerably higher during the election year 2015. The migration crisis reached its peak in the summer of that year. While many people at that time felt a need to protect the nation's interests by drawing a boundary between Switzerland and the outside world, today the focus on our national well-being is of a different nature. It's about standing together and getting through the crisis calmly and pragmatically. This is in keeping with the fact that many people in Switzerland are proud of their country's stability with respect to economic (87 percent), political (83 percent) and social affairs (83 percent). The Federal Council has done its part – although 70 percent of respondents (−13 pp) would still like it to show more leadership. As for the Federal Assembly, 77 percent (+9 pp) believe that it should demonstrate more willingness to compromise. Expectations are high – but so is the people's basic trust in policymakers.