The search for a new strategy
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The search for a new strategy

The war against Ukraine has shaken things up in many ways. Although the Soviet Union ended 30 years ago, we are now witnessing a renaissance of bloc thinking which ruled at the time. Switzerland must now decide whether to seek security within one of these blocs or in the fluid space between them.

So many moments in history start with a crisis. This is true whether we look to the past or the future. The modern turning points in our lives have been the end of the Cold War, 9/11, the financial crisis, and COVID. And now there's a war against Ukraine. How will next winter be? How about the next 12 months? These are the questions on the minds of private individuals and politicians in Switzerland. 

Economic worries are being redefined

While Switzerland has so far survived past crises relatively unscathed, the current situation seems to be a source of greater worry. In the main, people’s fears are not directly about the war itself, but rather the consequences of what may happen next. Not since 1995 has the percentage of eligible voters who assume that they will be worse off economically in the next 12 months been greater than it is today (19%). This is not primarily tied to worries about losing their job.

Worries of the Swiss

On the contrary, for the first time since the survey began in 1988, unemployment is no longer one of the top ten worries. Rather, respondents are concerned about the country’s supply situation and how to maintain their usual standard of living under the current circumstances. In addition to the war against Ukraine (20%) and the fear of losing neutrality (13%), a secure energy supply (21%) is the third worry to move into the top ten of 2022. 

This year, inflation (24%, +16pp), energy issues (25%, +11pp), and the price of gasoline or petroleum (14%, +8pp) have also come to the forefront of many people's worries. With a loss of four percentage points (9%, –4pp), the issue of gender equality is among the worries that saw the biggest drop. In view of the major geopolitical and economic uncertainties, people seem to be prioritizing their worries differently. Social issues are moving into the spotlight while post-materialistic issues have lost significance. 

Identity under pressure

Along with direct democracy, federalism, and the concept of a citizen legislature, neutrality is one of the main features of identity and a pillar of Swiss politics. The fear of losing this neutrality, however, is now a concern primarily among voters from the center, the FDP, and the SVP. This worry is less pronounced when it comes to supporters of left-leaning parties. When asked about various factors that threaten Switzerland's identity, external pressure in its different forms plays a significant role for many respondents. In concrete terms, Switzerland's dependence on the global economy (71%), the EU and its problems (67%), immigration (60%), and the opening of international borders (55%) are now considered a bigger threat to Switzerland's identity then they were last year.

Sixty-eight percent feel that Switzerland's core principle is threatened by the fact that Western values are generally under pressure in the new geopolitical tug of war. In addition to the external forces that influence Switzerland, voters also point to domestic problems that weigh on the nation's shoulders – above all, the decline in volunteer work (79%) and the inability of politicians to find viable solutions to problems (78%). For several years now, Swiss voters have also cited reform backlog (67%) and increasing political polarization (66%) as a growing threat to the country's identity. 

67 %

of voters consider the reform backlog to be a threat to the country's identity.

Generation gaps

The true level of solidarity among the generations has been discussed frequently, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of those entitled to vote also perceive this decline in solidarity as a threat to Switzerland. Interestingly, younger people and older generations in particular have different ways of interpreting things that undermine Switzerland's identity. Younger people feel much less threatened by a connected, globalized world than older Swiss people do. By contrast, very young people and people of retirement age have a similar view of such issues as the reform backlog and political polarization – both threats that are perceived less strongly by middle-aged people. 

Leadership from politicians and business 

In order to solve the country's political problems, the people want to see more leadership from the Federal Council and Parliament. This view intensified over the course of the COVID crisis and has become more pronounced in 2022. Alongside politicians, the private sector is also seen as playing a key role, as respondents feel that, given enough leeway, in some cases it may come up with solutions more quickly than politicians. 

No retreat to geopolitical protectionism 

Although the results of this year's Worry Barometer are critical of unrestrained globalization, a retreat to geopolitical protectionism is not a feasible solution in voters’ eyes. It is true that the respondents still consider neutrality important and are skeptical about Switzerland taking an active role in the events relating to the war against Ukraine. However, the majority does not feel that Switzerland should withdraw or go it alone. Instead, they believe that solutions to political problems must be found internationally and by means of Switzerland's greater involvement. Increasingly fewer respondents now believe that global problems do not affect Switzerland and, especially when it comes to climate policy, they are increasingly anxious for the country to take the lead. 

Alignment to the EU position

Traditionally, when considering their country's relationship with other nations, the Swiss are pragmatic, focusing on Switzerland’s status as a location for industry and business. Values and standards, by contrast, are less important. The current worries about the country's economic future are thus likely to serve as an important catalyst for people's desire to move away from the strategy of an isolated niche policy and toward a stronger alignment with the EU's position. This view is shared by Swiss citizens across all political blocs, far into the mainstream.