Youth Barometer 2022: War, peace, and geopolitics
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Youth Barometer 2022: War, peace, and geopolitics

For the first time in the history of the survey, a majority of young adults in Switzerland are no longer looking to their own future with confidence.

Although the optimism felt by young Swiss people has been falling steadily since 2014, a majority still looked forward to the future with hope. In 2022, only 44% of young people in Switzerland claimed to be optimistic regarding their own future. This has been revealed in the Credit Suisse Youth Barometer, a representative survey of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in Switzerland, the US, Brazil, and Singapore.

When young adults are asked about their forecast for the future of society as a whole, the Credit Suisse Youth Barometer shows a rather gloomy picture. Just under one in five young people in Switzerland answered the question regarding the future of society with "rather confident." Compared with the US, Brazil, and Singapore, young people in Switzerland are therefore the least hopeful for the future of society as a whole.

It is not entirely surprising that young people's hopes for a better future have been significantly diminished in the last two years. In addition to the increasingly noticeable effects of climate change and the continuing coronavirus pandemic, there is now the war in Ukraine adding great uncertainty about the geopolitical balance of power in the world. In 2022, it's war instead of peace and democracy versus autocracy. This is also reflected in the somewhat worrying results of the new Credit Suisse Youth Barometer.

Declining confidence in democracy

Of the young people in Switzerland who were surveyed, 57% believe that their own democracy is in a good, stable condition. They are also of the opinion that Swiss democracy was crisis resistant during the coronavirus pandemic. In this respect, Switzerland clearly stands out from the other countries surveyed. The contrast is strongest with Brazil, where 83% of young people believe that their own democracy is in crisis. Corruption, and thus low confidence in the institutions and the rule of law, probably play a key role in this. In the US as well, the deeply divided political camps and events, such as the storming of the Capitol in January 2021, have led to a democratic crisis that weighs heavily on young people. About half of young Americans consider democracy within their own country to be in crisis.

Crisis of democracy

While young Swiss people are still somewhat hopeful with regard to their own democracy, the prognosis for democracy worldwide is much less positive. Three in four young people in Switzerland consider democracy to be in crisis globally. Only in Brazil do the same number of young people share this opinion. In Singapore and the US as well, far more than the majority of the young people surveyed believe that we are in a global democratic crisis. What is striking is that young people in the United States see their own democracy as more at risk than democracy worldwide. Pride in one's own country has also fallen from 70% to under 40% among young Americans in the last four years. In contrast to this, 70% of young people in Switzerland are very or rather proud of their own country.

Furthermore, in the US and Brazil, there is a widespread view among young people that politicians are only concerned with themselves, rather than acting for the common good.

The desire for strong leaders

In Switzerland, almost two in three young people regard democracy as the only correct form of government that allows them to live a good life. In the US, only 39% share this view. Wherever confidence in democracy has been negatively impacted, large sections of the population yearn for strong leaders. In Brazil, two in three young people believe that a strong leader with concentrated power would be good for their own country, compared to just under 60% in Singapore and just under 50% in the US. Among young people in Switzerland, "only" one in four shares this view. The ancient longing for a "strong man" who can lead the country out of a crisis is experiencing a renaissance among young people in particular.

Statements on democracy

The war in Ukraine

Europe just went through a relatively long period of peace. The foundations of this fragile peace were shattered on February 24, 2022. Overnight, there was suddenly a war in Ukraine. For many young people, this is the first war that they have experienced in close proximity.

Although the war in Ukraine is only 1,700 km away, it is the least of young Swiss people's worries, comparatively speaking. Almost half of young adults in Switzerland say that they worry little or fairly little about the war. In the US, Brazil, and Singapore, around two-thirds of young people worry about the war.

Young people in all countries surveyed are far more concerned that the war in Ukraine could spread to other countries. Young Swiss people are the least concerned about a possible expansion of the war (61%); the greatest concern is in Brazil, followed by Singapore and the US. Half of young people are comparatively satisfied with Switzerland's policy regarding the Ukraine war. However, the most important thing for young people is to support peace initiatives from humanitarian organizations.

Those young people who are longing for strong leadership and whose trust in democracy is shattered also have a certain understanding for Russia's actions. Even in Switzerland, a country with a high level of trust in democracy, every fourth young person has at least a certain understanding for Russia's actions in Ukraine. In Singapore, 46% of young adults, compared to 44% in the US and 35% in Brazil, consider that Russia deserves at least some understanding. This shows that the geopolitical power struggle between democracy and autocracy is also leaving its mark on the minds of young people.