Living environments in Switzerland
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Living environments in Switzerland

The city/country divide, the generational gap, or differences between the language regions are occasionally heavily discussed in politics and the media. Solidarity and similarities, however, are also reflected by the electorate.

Individualization of society

The increasing prosperity within society, the increase in educational levels, and the shortening of working hours often also lead to an individualization of lifestyles. These trends can also be observed in Switzerland. And where lifestyles become more diverse, a pluralization of living environments also takes place. Usually, these various living environments coexist peacefully with each other and are the expression of increasingly available opportunities and possibilities. In combination with societal megatrends, such as political polarization, the fragmentation of the media system, or also with current events such as the coronavirus crisis, there is also a certain risk of deepening divides between the various living environments. After all, individualization also means separation.

Over the past years, few political developments have been as explosive as the city/country divide. However, an evaluation of all national votes since the 1980s shows that the difference in voting behavior between urban and rural regions is, on average, not as big as it often appears: Across all approximately 350 submissions of the past 30 years, there is an average 8% difference for each submission. This is compounded by the fact that only 20% of the population actually lives in rural areas. The majority of the remaining 80% lives in agglomerations, which effectively constitute a type of link between core cities and rural areas. Therefore, since most people do not clearly live "in the country" or "in the city" but somewhere in the middle, certain topics are rather what highlight this city/country divide.

The Credit Suisse Worry Barometer thus shows different worry perceptions depending on the type of residential area: The more rural the area in which someone lives, for instance, the greater the worry about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact. A similar observation can be made regarding the issue of wages and inflation, which cause twice as much worry in rural areas than in cities (or agglomerations). In contrast, worry about climate change is more pronounced in urban areas than in rural areas, and especially than in agglomerations. While worry about the climate in cities may also be shaped by the very present left-leaning liberal environment there in particular, in the country it is the proximity to nature that heightens this topic more than in agglomerations, which are culturally between these two living environments. One aspect in which the perceptions of urban and rural areas differ strikingly is the general development of Swiss democracy. While 9% of the urban population is worried about the weaknesses of direct democracy, only 4% of the rural population is. The percentage of people who see political polarization, the increasing reform backlog, or the political world's decreasing ability to find viable solutions as a threat to national identity is also higher in urban areas than in rural areas. In contrast, the percentage of people who see a very significant threat to identity due to the urban/rural divide is significantly higher in rural areas (23%) than in urban areas (13%).

Different priorities between German-speaking Switzerland, Suisse Romande, and Ticino

While the Röstigraben divide may have lost some of its explosive power, the three linguistic regions of Switzerland still have different priorities. It appears that in German-speaking Switzerland, climate, retirement provision, relations with the EU, immigration issues, and social issues are a greater focus of people's perception of worries than in the other linguistic regions. The unease regarding the acquisition of Swiss companies by foreign investors is also much more pronounced in German-speaking Switzerland than elsewhere in the country.

In French-speaking Suisse Romande, the worry about relations with the EU is similar to that in German-speaking Switzerland. In contrast, with regard to the perception of healthcare costs, French-speaking Switzerland is closer to Italian-speaking Switzerland.

Finally, south of the Alps, the worries of the people are once again slightly different: On economic issues such as unemployment, new poverty, or income, worry is much more pronounced than in both German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland. More importance is also given to security aspects – for instance regarding provision or the risk of terrorism – than in the other linguistic regions. Worry regarding current traffic (traffic jams) or looking towards the future of mobility is also pronounced. This region not only has intense cross-border traffic with Italy but is also a tourism hotspot within Switzerland. In addition to positive economic aspects, this also brings heavy domestic traffic.

The top 10 worries of the Swiss in 2021

Generation as a living environment

In addition to an urban or rural environment and the linguistic region, a person's age also changes their priorities: Generational solidarity or conflict was a repeated topic not only with regard to the reorganization of the AHV – one of the largest political reform projects of our time – but also during the coronavirus pandemic. The Compass section on worry perception shows that young people prioritize global trend topics such as climate change and equality. In contrast, older people are less post-materialistic in their worry perception and, for instance, give greater importance to security aspects.

However, despite all differences in living environment, for many the coronavirus crisis in particular has also triggered a relatively strong sense of solidarity and an increase of pride in their own country. Around 70% are of the opinion that people stood in solidarity with each other during this difficult time and supported each other. Another 64% found that the crisis made clear that many everyday political conflicts are actually unimportant. After having somewhat declined over the past few years, pride in being Swiss has increased once again this year.