Voters are less worried about unemployment (traditionally a top concern) and do not feel their jobs are threatened by digitalization. The most urgent issues are pensions, healthcare, and migration.
Ever since Credit Suisse conducted the first survey in 1976, the Worry Barometer has sought to identify Switzerland's most pressing problems and give unique insight into the prevailing mood among Swiss voters. The most notable result of this year's survey: Unemployment, which has long topped the list, has slipped into sixth place.
But first, let's look at the top five: 45 percent (+1 percentage point) of voters said their biggest worry was Old Age and Survivors' Insurance (AHV) and retirement provision, citing these as their highest political priority. Current debate over the failed reform of the Old Age and Survivors' Insurance was likely a major reason this issue ranked so highly.
Ranking second on the worry list were healthcare and health insurance (41 percent, +15 percentage points). Like pensions, this topic has gained prominence in the last two years. It now ranks second among political priorities. It is interesting to note that these two issues have trended in parallel over the last 30 years, both gaining in importance from the end of 1980 through 2000, rising to well over 50 percent. However, they were then overshadowed by the events of 9/11, the bursting of the tech bubble, and increasing immigration. In 2016, fewer than 30 percent of voters thought retirement or healthcare was much of a problem.
One in six respondents worries about financial security
Moving down the list, we see that retirement and health are followed by a number of topics relating to migration, namely foreigners (37 percent, +2 percentage points) and asylum matters (31 percent, +12 percentage points). This marks the first time in three years that these worries have gained importance – despite the fact that both immigration and the number of asylum seekers have decreased slightly.
The environment (23 percent, +7 percentage points) ranks fifth among Swiss voters' greatest concerns. That is an increase from 2016 but still far below the numbers collected in the '70s and '80s, when it regularly topped the list with 70 percent of responses. "The unusually hot, dry summer this year may have raised environmental awareness," says study director Lukas Golder of the gfs.bern research institute. "Climate change has been in the news a lot."
But as mentioned at the start of this article, the most surprising result of this year's survey is the drop of unemployment in the ranking. That is a historic change. The Worry Barometer was launched 42 years ago, and unemployment has figured as the top concern in 24 of the last 37 surveys (at the start, the survey was only conducted every two years). On average across all of those surveys, nearly 60 percent of voters have considered unemployment as Switzerland's biggest problem. This year, it was named by only 22 percent of respondents (down 22 percentage points from the previous year). As a result, unemployment now ranks sixth among Swiss worries. In the history of the Worry Barometer, only once before has unemployment received this little attention. In the boom years following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of Eastern Europe, the unemployment rate dropped to 0.5 percent and worries about it to 21 percent (1990). Today, too, the unemployment rate is relatively low (2.4 percent in August 2018), having dropped significantly over the past several years especially. As a result, it has also become less of a political priority.
Survey respondents seem optimistic about the future. Despite increasing digitalization and the threat of technology eliminating jobs, 75 percent of respondents deem it unlikely that their jobs will be automated in the next 20 years. By contrast, people are more ambivalent about the impact of new technologies in general. Positive and negative statements both received high scores on the survey. At least 60 percent of respondents said they agreed with the following statements: "New technologies improve our quality of life," "...make it easier to navigate the labor market and improve opportunities," and "....make it easier for potential employers to find us." At least as many, if not more, people also agreed with these statements: "New technologies make people complacent," "...make it easier for the state to exert control," "...make our society more vulnerable," and "...increase the risk of mental illness."
So, jobs are secure and people are aware of the risks and opportunities of digitalization. Does that mean all is well on the Swiss labor market? Not quite. Concern about "new poverty" (18 percent, +4 percentage points) and wages (15 percent, +9 percentage points) has increased. One in six respondents worries about financial security. Study director Lukas Golder sees that as an "indication that inequality is increasing and the number of working poor is rising." That may be related to the fact that real incomes have been slow to increase and, in fact, recently decreased despite the strong economy.