Life in the face of uncertainty
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Life in the face of uncertainty

The coronavirus pandemic demonstrates Switzerland's resilience in times of crisis to voters. The Swiss do indeed closely observe the actions of the political world, the economy, and the media in these uncertain times, see room for improvement, and think carefully when it comes to expressing trust. However, few are those plagued by existential worries.

The coronavirus pandemic makes clear that life, even in Switzerland, is increasingly shaped by uncertainty. We now live in a "VUCA world." The acronym stands for "volatility," "uncertainty," "complexity," and "ambiguity." The term was coined in the 1990s at the United States Army War College in order to describe the changing world after the end of the Cold War. From when this term was first coined to this very day, the world has been repeatedly faced with new uncertainties: 9/11, the global financial crisis, and geopolitical challenges. Most recently, the coronavirus crisis is demonstrating that Switzerland is also part of this VUCA world and has been shaken at its core.

Crisis-resistant Switzerland and unworried voters

However, the recent past shows that Switzerland is relatively crisis-resistant. At least, if you listen to the assessments of voters. They indicate that Switzerland has a high degree of resilience. With questions about current economic well-being or assessing the economic situation in the future, crises such as the financial crisis (2008), the euro crisis (from 2010), or the franc shock (2015) are barely reflected in poorer figures. In light of the enormous costs incurred by the economy and the state due to the pandemic, the question of the long-term financial consequences of the coronavirus crisis arises. In this regard, voters are of the opinion that the accumulated debt should be paid off over the next 20 years (including through austerity measures). However, compared to the past two years, worry about an increased tax burden no longer seems to gnaw at people. Another concern that is not shared by the majority is the notion that the widely available support of the economy during the crisis will suddenly make everyone complacent and reliant on government handouts. And even though at times over a million workers in Switzerland were affected by short-time working, the former top worry, unemployment, continues to lose importance even in these economically so unpredictable times – at least at the national level.

Trend with regard to current personal economic situation

Despite coronavirus, those who are less well-off are becoming optimistic

In francophone and italophone Switzerland, among people with a lower level of education or a household monthly income between CHF 3,000 and CHF 5,000, worry about possible unemployment is higher than among those who are better off. Similarly, persons who are financially less well-off or who have a lower educational degree give a poorer assessment of their current economic situation than those who are better off. What is surprising, however, is that over the past three years in these population segments in particular, there has been a significant improvement in the assessment of their current and future situation. This finding is somewhat surprising in light of the pandemic, since these groups in particular were often especially affected by measures such as short-time working or wage reductions.

Trend with regard to job losses over the next 12 months

Trust exists, even during the pandemic

While crises since the end of the 1990s were primarily of an economic nature and could be somewhat mitigated through Switzerland's very solid state finances, the current coronavirus crisis goes beyond purely economic aspects and also creates uncertainty, which affects social life and the political functioning of the country.

Fifty-seven percent believe that Switzerland has managed the coronavirus crisis better than anyone else.

That said, Switzerland still gets a very good grade, even in this fundamental crisis. Fifty-seven percent of voters in Switzerland believe the coronavirus crisis has shown that Switzerland manages things better than any other country. Additionally, the share of voters accusing politics or the economy of certain failures is limited and has not skyrocketed over the last year and a half. Furthermore, while trust in political, economic, and media actors may be slightly under pressure and there is definitely criticism of certain aspects of pandemic management, this is not a general crisis of confidence. The Federal Council in particular has a high trust rating in 2021 compared to the last 15 years. For Parliament and the media, the long-term trend is slightly less positive.

Other actors continue to lose trust, even though they may be necessary for the immediate functioning of politics or the economy by creating stability and purpose; the army was unable to gain trust on average, and churches were unable to counter the ongoing loss of trust in them of the past few years.

Confidence in Swiss institutions in 2021

Room for improvement in crisis management and federalism

There is also doubt as to whether federalism is the right organizational form in times of crisis and uncertainty. Under such circumstances, at least 63% wish for more powers for the federal government and less for the cantons. In particular, a majority did not find crisis management in autumn 2020 to be successful. Therefore, while Switzerland proved to be resilient in times of crisis, crisis management, lagging digitalization, and federalism turned out to be of little use in dealing with the pandemic. In addition, the economy, the media, and the army – despite its tireless efforts during the pandemic – were unable to make their mark. However, in the eyes of voters, the crisis has also created moments of solidarity and given them the feeling that, in times of crisis and uncertainty, Switzerland sticks together and finds solutions.