The collapse of confidence
Articles & stories

The collapse of confidence

Confidence in Switzerland's institutions is dropping rapidly. In one notable exception, the police have captured the top spot.

"Switzerland's doing fine" and "Reform backlog" highlight a skeptical attitude towards politics and, to a somewhat lesser degree, towards the economy. This critical stance is reflected even more clearly by the confidence rankings. When asked how much confidence they personally have in Switzerland's institutions, voters are clear: "much less than last year." In one year, the 20 institutions included in the survey have lost over a quarter of the people's confidence.

When it comes to the confidence placed in them, six institutions have even lost 20 percentage points or more: the EU (–20 percentage points), employee associations (–20 pp), political parties (–22 pp), employers' associations (–23 pp), paid newspapers (–23 pp) and churches (–25 pp). The fact that these six institutions come from such a wide range of different areas makes the results difficult to interpret. Other than specific reasons behind the poor performance of any of these individual institutions, one generic explanation could be a distrust of policy-makers in general.

The police stand alone at the other side of the spectrum. They are the only institution to gain confidence (+2 pp) and are also the most popular one for the first time since 2012. This result could possibly be related to the topic of "personal safety" from the Worry Barometer ranking, which increased the most (+11 pp, Section 1). The Federal Supreme Court, the institution leading the rankings most frequently over the past 20 years, is now at number 2 (–4 pp).

Switzerland's perception of itself is rooted strongly in its institutions, and they are facing criticism. No wonder then that 77 percent consider the "diminishing ability of politicians to reach sustainable solutions" to be a threat to Swiss identity. Sixty-two percent think that problems with the EU are jeopardizing Switzerland's identity. The EU is also among the institutions losing confidence at a rate of 20 percentage points or more, and the relationship is generally an uneasy one. It is also worth noting in this context that 61 percent of respondents find that there is a backlog of reforms.

When it comes to issues that jeopardize national identity, the topic of immigration – topping the list practically every year between 2004 and 2016 – continues to lose urgency. This is in line with the results of the Worry Barometer ranking indicating that, since 2015, the focus has been moving away from foreigners and refugees. Respondents reveal the flipside of their skepticism towards the institutions. When asked what elements of Swiss politics they are proud of, 93 percent responded that they are most proud of the country's civil rights, in other words, the initiatives and referenda. According to Cloé Jans, Head of Research at gfs.bern, "Direct democracy is a deeply rooted element of the Swiss identity. Political co-determination is essentially in our DNA. It makes sense that the strong ties to these institutions become even more evident when people are unhappy with politicians."

That leaves the question of what actually symbolizes Switzerland? If the institutions are viewed so critically, what distinguishes us? The most frequently mentioned factor by far is security/peace (33 percent). This is in line with the significance of police and personal safety. Next comes neutrality (19 percent) and the countryside (15 percent). Then come the elements of popular participation referenced before: democracy (14 percent) and freedom/ freedom of expression (12 percent).

Now some good news at last. Despite the upheavals described here, "pride in Switzerland" remains at a consistently high level, with 51 percent of respondents "somewhat" and 28 percent "very proud" of their country.