What Worries Swiss Voters?
What concerns Swiss voters? Immigration seems to pose a growing threat, while people are also afraid that jobs will be lost and their retirement jeopardized.
Switzerland is one of the European countries with a particularly high percentage of foreigners, and that figure has increased substantially over the last 30 years. The permanent resident foreign population was under 15 percent in the 1980s, and it is close to 25 percent today. According to the recent survey conducted as part of this year's Credit Suisse Worry Barometer, this trend is increasingly perceived as a burden. In 2003, only 18 percent of those surveyed characterized "foreigners" as Switzerland's main problem, while that number currently stands at 43 percent. That perception has not been changed by the approval of the popular initiative "against mass immigration" in February 2014 – quite the opposite, as according to two surveys conducted in the meantime, the issue of "foreigners" has gained another six percentage points (pp) in the ranking of top concerns and is currently at an all-time high.
In addition, the worsening of the global refugee situation is also being felt in Switzerland. Thirty-five percent of voters consider refugees to be a problem; this number was higher in 2006 (39 percent) but still less than its peak of up to 56 percent from 1999 to 2004. In other words, the high percentage of newcomers is unsettling to the population, although there is some good news in this regard, too. Racism and xenophobia (10 percent), coexistence (7 percent) and religious fundamentalism (6 percent) are considered to be marginal concerns.
Regional Differences and Euro Concerns
As has been the case since 2003, unemployment is still considered the main worry of the Swiss. In order to better understand this, the Worry Barometer began last year to differentiate between overall unemployment (41 percent, +5 pp) and youth unemployment (26 percent, +4 pp).
As expected, youth unemployment represents a widespread concern (47 percent) among those young people up to 25 years of age, who are possibly directly affected. Yet when it comes to unemployment as a general, non-age specific topic, a marked difference can be noted between French-speaking Switzerland (48 percent) and German-speaking Switzerland (38 percent), but also between respondents who identify themselves as politically centrist or left (43 percent) and those sympathizing with the right (31 percent).
Over the last 20 years, an average of 60 percent of respondents indicated that unemployment is one of their main concerns. And the latest results are close to this figure as well, yet they are a far cry from the peak reached in 1993 (89 percent), and the highest recent figure (2010: 76 percent). In line with this, the unemployment rate has remained stable at 3.2 percent for two years.
The latest uptick in concerns about unemployment (+12 pp over the last two years) could be related to the ongoing strong Swiss franc, a problem that has been exacerbated by the discontinuation of the minimum euro exchange rate in January. It is therefore understandable that people are concerned about the economic trend. The survey does not, however, reflect fear of an economic crisis (7 percent) or problems related to financial issues such as taxes (9 percent), wages (10 percent) or inflation (11 percent). Even the phenomenon of a "new poverty" (15 percent) is ranked significantly lower than at its peak of 2005 (29 percent).
Greater Concern about Retirement Provision than about Health
Three additional phenomena have been at the top of the worry hit parade for years. In an average of the last 20 years, unemployment (60 percent) is still followed by health care (44 percent) and AHV (42 percent), well ahead of refugees (33 percent) and foreigners (28 percent) as well as relations with the European Union (25 percent).
Securing retirement benefits is one of the main concerns of the Swiss public in 2015, as well. This time, 38 percent (+1 pp) indicated that AHV is an issue; the last time it exceeded this amount was in 2010 (45 percent). Since 2003, however, health care shows an almost linear trend, declining sharply from 64 percent to 22 percent today. Measures enacted to counteract the skyrocketing cost of health care seem to have successfully bolstered the people's confidence in the relevant stakeholders. Concerns about the European Union are on the rise and currently stand at 24 percent (+10 pp since 2011). That could be related to the implementation of the mass immigration initiative and uncertainty surrounding the bilateral agreements. But the current level is a long way from that seen during the years directly following the rejection of the EEA accession and during negotiations for the first bilateral agreement (1999). Between 1995 and 2000, an average of 40.5 percent of respondents were concerned about Swiss-EU relations.
And what problems will concern the Swiss people in ten years? As perceived today, the ranking is as follows: unemployment (55 percent), retirement (46 percent), foreigners (39 percent), refugees (32 percent), new poverty (24 percent), health care (22 percent), social safety (19 percent), as well as personal security and the European Union (both 18 percent). In a Switzerland in transition, one thing remains more or less constant: the main concerns of the population.