Shifting concerns
Articles & stories

Shifting concerns

The pandemic? Water under the bridge. The war in Ukraine? Terrible, not least because of possible supply disruptions. But people are most concerned about environmental pollution and retirement savings.

In the case of the Worry Barometer, it is interesting to see, on the one hand, what worries top the rankings, and, on the other, which of the hotly debated issues barely register on many people's radar. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, the clear leader in 2020 (51%) and 2021 (40%). It has now apparently become an everyday problem (13%). The population has learned to live with the pandemic. This is encouraging, and shows that, all in all, the government, healthcare, business, and the media took the right actions despite the difficult and emotionally charged environment. However, with several million victims worldwide, we cannot simply close this chapter.

In 2020, the Worry Barometer asked respondents about the pandemic-related changes they might expect until 2023. Back then, 76% anticipated a rise in unemployment. It is worth mentioning that unemployment climbed back to third place in 2020, at 31%, after having dropped significantly: It had reached record highs of 89% back in 1993 and 76% in 2010, making it the "biggest worry of all time." However, these fears have been unfounded thus far. This year, as in the previous year, unemployment was mentioned by only 14% of the population. 

Worries of the Swiss

The war in Ukraine is taking its toll

But how has Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, which began on February 24, affected the Worry Barometer? This war was listed as a direct worry by 20% of the population. But at least three other top concerns can be associated with the Ukraine war. For the first time, supply chain issues regarding energy, medicines, and food were mentioned by 21% of respondents. Similarly, the concerns about energy issues in general (energy issues / nuclear energy) have spiked to 25% (+11pp). While the first concern is primarily about ensuring the supply of energy in uncertain times and in winter, the concern about energy issues is likely to affect the future energy situation in general: what Switzerland's energy strategy will look like in the coming years, and where compromises may be unavoidable in the areas of environment, nature conservation or with regard to technologies such as nuclear power. Worries about inflation also rose sharply to 24% (+16pp), as did those about the price of gasoline and petroleum, to 14% (+8pp). The threat to neutrality and the need to redefine what it means is perceived by 13% as a problem.

The environment and retirement provision take the lead 

The number one worry is environmental impact (climate change, environmental disasters, environmental protection). As in the previous year, 39% of Swiss people share this concern. This is the highest level since 1995 and represents a marked increase since 2006 (+22pp), but it is still very far from the record levels of 1988 to 1991 (61% to 74%).

The referendum on the revision of the AHV on September 25 – which took place after the Worry Barometer survey – will have no particular impact on the levels of anxiety about retirement savings. This issue was mentioned by 37% (–2pp) This is not surprising, because retirement provision has always been among the top (negative) positions since 1993, with figures ranging from 27% (2007) to 59% (2003). Increasing the retirement age for women will secure funding for the AHV in the short term, but will not solve the problem of retirement provision entirely. It will thus remain a major concern.

Switzerland's relationship with the European Union, cited by 25% (–8pp) as a problem, is examined in a separate article. Healthcare, which has always been a main worry just like unemployment and retirement provision, is still mentioned by 24% (–1%), after having been at a high 41% in 2018 and 2019. The decline can be traced to the stabilization of health insurance premiums, but when looking at the current survey results we must remember that the significant increase in premiums for 2023 had not yet been published. Only next year will it become apparent whether individual premium discounts, which differ from canton to canton, have had the desired effect.

Immigration to Switzerland is cited by 19% (–1pp) as a problem, and specifically with regard to refugees and asylum seekers it is 16% (+3pp). Both are significantly below the prior long-term trend.

What do nonpartisan voters worry about?

When one considers the concerns of the individual parties and their supporters, it is striking to see how big the discrepancy is when it comes to environmental protection – there is a difference of 57 percentage points between the prioritization by the Greens (75%) and the SVP (18%); on the issue of immigration / foreigners, the difference is 30 percentage points, again with the same parties. Then there are three issues with a difference in excess of 20 percentage points (inflation, refugees, EU). At least there is agreement on the other main worries in terms of how much of a threat they pose to Switzerland. 

Biggest worries by party affiliation

Looking ahead to future elections, it may be interesting to see how worries were weighted among nonpartisan voters. They named healthcare issues and health insurance premiums (34%) as the top priority, followed by the environment (33%), inflation (32%), retirement provision (31%) and, a long way behind, secure energy supply and housing costs (21% each). The other problem areas play a less important role, but are still meaningful as they differ in part from the parties' worries: energy issues (17%), war in Ukraine and immigration (16% each), education and coexistence in Switzerland (15% each), as well as global dependencies, petroleum prices, and relations with the EU (14% each), and, finally, unemployment, low wages, and the refugee issue (13% each).

It would seem that, in the near future, many of these nonpartisan voters are worried about their financial situation. Although the assessment of their individual economic situation at present may not yet show any deviations from the previous years – 65% (+0) of the population describe it as good or very good, and only 6% (+0) as bad – the 12-month outlook paints a much different picture [see Fig. 2]. Eleven percent (–1pp) believe that their situation will improve, but a good 19% (+9pp) worry that theirs will deteriorate. This is the highest percentage in the survey's 27-year history. Accordingly, while a large majority believe their situation will stay the same, their share has dropped to the lowest figure thus far at 66% (–9pp). 

Preventing new poverty

In the opinion of nonpartisan voters, a "new" challenge is being posed to society. The increasing threat of new poverty must be thwarted. For 17% of nonpartisan voters, new poverty is one of the main problems – but according to the Worry Barometer, new poverty has hardly registered among those affiliated with political parties. Among the center parties, it is 5%. For FDP and GLP voters it is 8%, for SVP 9%, and even within the SP (11%) and GPS (13%), there are only a few members and supporters who consider this phenomenon to be problematic.

Confidence in Swiss institutuions in 2022

It is therefore reassuring that, at the same time, trust in the four important institutions – the police, the Federal Supreme Court, the National Bank, and the Federal Council – remains widespread and stable. The same applies to a lesser extent, but with a slight upward trend, to the other institutions mentioned in the survey, such as the Council of States, the National Council, and political parties. And even the amount of people's pride in being Swiss has dipped slightly, but at 77% (–1pp) remains very high. The conditions for combating new poverty and the population's other long-term concerns seem to be in place.