The reform backlog
Voter priorities are clear and their impatience is mounting: They want answers and results.
The world is becoming increasingly complex, as exemplified in escalating trade wars, rising populism and the global debate about climate change. How is this complexity reflected in the annual Credit Suisse Worry Barometer survey? What do respondents consider to be the country's biggest problems? How do they view public policy and the economy? The answers are surprising and quite fascinating.
Despite the turbulence worldwide, the ranking of concerns we track has remained surprisingly stable. Voter priorities are clear: 1. Old Age and Survivors' Insurance/retirement provision (47 percent, +2 percentage points over the previous year), 2. healthcare/health insurance (41 percent, ±0 pp), 3. foreigners (30 percent, –7 pp), 4. environmental protection/climate change (29 percent, +6 pp) and 5. unemployment (26 percent, +4 pp).
The two biggest concerns (Old Age and Survivors' Insurance and healthcare/health insurance) are concrete domestic policy issues. "Voters expected policymakers to come up with solutions," says Cloé Jans of gfs.bern, who headed up the study. "But from the voters' perspective, they haven't delivered. That's why we are seeing a certain level of dissatisfaction with the role of Parliament and government when it comes to reform".
Concern about environmental protection has increased by 6 percentage points (pp), but that was not quite enough to put the issue among the top three – although climate change was covered heavily in the media this year and environmentalist parties (the Green Party and the Green Liberal Party) increased their representation in this October's parliamentary elections. Another topic that garnered less media attention was also surprisingly important to voters: Personal safety (+11 pp) gained more sharply than any other concern tracked in the study. Interpreting the results is not necessarily simple. Foreigners (–7 pp) and refugees (–11 pp) – both topics that right-wing political parties often associate with increasing crime rates – have lost some of their urgency among voters. Karin Keller-Sutter, a member of the Swiss Federal Council, stressed in an interview (page 68) that Swiss national security and protecting Swiss citizens are of utmost priority. She says, "Without security, there can be no prosperity." Unemployment, which has long ranked as the top concern on the Worry Barometer, appears to have lost urgency as well, having dropped considerably in importance last year and rebounding only slightly this year (26 percent, +4 pp). It would appear that Swiss voters feel their jobs are very secure.
Less pressing concerns
Interestingly, a number of other topics that have received considerable media coverage do not seem to factor as urgent concerns among voters. Th ose include (by ranking): 16. wages (11 percent), 17. equality (11 percent) and 22. family policy/childcare (8 percent), 24. Internet security/cyber spying (7 percent), 25. terrorism (6 percent), 26. globalization (6 percent), 30. digitalization (6 percent) and 40. global trade wars (3 percent). As the map shows, the Swiss are disappointed with policymakers and the lack of progress being made on much needed reforms – with 46 percent stating that policymakers have often failed on critical issues. Two years ago, in 2017, that figure was just 24 percent. Frustrations may be fueled by the fact that voters are generally quite interested in matters of public policy: 74 percent of respondents stated that they are either "somewhat interested" or "very interested" in politics – a record high (it has been measured each year since 1995). Responses to the question of who should resolve political issues also indicate general dissatisfaction. Voters would like to see policymakers, especially those in the executive branch, take more initiative: "The Federal Council needs to do a better job of fulfilling its leadership role," say 83 percent, while 68 percent feel that "Parliament should seek more compromise." Other institutions are also viewed with deep criticism. While 41 percent of respondents believe that business leaders often fail on key issues, 60 percent said they are highly competent problem-solvers. Many even go so far as to say that "The business community finds solutions faster than policymakers" but that "they need more freedom and less bureaucracy". Can we deduce from these responses that popular initiatives may be afoot that will likely demand more laws and regulations? Be that as it may, one thing is clear from the Worry Barometer 2019: People want public policy solutions.