The FINANCIAL — Unemployment, rising healthcare costs, and pensions: those are the three areas that have worried Swiss voters most in the past eight years.
Recently, there has been a noticeable rise in concern about the loss of purchasing power due to inflation. At the same time, the number of Swiss who are proud of their country continues to rise steadily. Whereas the watchmaking industry, the country's international reputation for quality and its strong brands are the leading reasons for pride in the Swiss economy, Switzerland's independence, neutrality and citizens' rights make people proud of the Swiss political system. These are the results of the most recent Credit Suisse Worry Barometer survey.
What are the five biggest worries of the Swiss? For over 30 years, Credit Suisse has conducted an annual Worry Barometer survey to look into this question. In 2008, the bank again commissioned gfs.bern, a market research institute, to survey over 1,000 Swiss voters in all parts of the country about their worries. In a supplementary survey on Swiss identity, interviewees were also asked to name the country's strengths and weaknesses and say what Switzerland stands for.
Some of the results described below reflect the uncertainty in the financial markets before and during the interview period (September 2-28, 2008), and which has increased in recent weeks. That said, from a scientific point of view the results are representative of the underlying mood of Swiss citizens in 2008, particularly when embedded in the comparison over time – a salient feature of the Worry Barometer.
Unemployment Still Main Concern
For the sixth year in succession, Swiss citizens are more anxious about losing their jobs than about any other problem, though the percentage mentioning it has fallen by four percentage points to 53 percent. Concerns about retirement provision have declined even more sharply – by six percentage points to 39 percent, which means that this worry has dropped to 3rd place behind health insurance/healthcare (40%; 2007: 38%). This result is hardly surprising, as these three problems have shared the first three places in various constellations for the past eight years. Accordingly, interest is focused on the fourth most frequently mentioned concern.
Growing Threats: Inflation, General Economic Development, and New Poverty
In the most recent survey, the topic of inflation moved into fourth place; the jump of 12 percentage points in responses was the biggest in the survey. Although the second biggest increase in replies was posted by concern about the country's general economic development, which rose by 8 percentage points to 17 percent, it still failed to make the top ten (place 14). If these two items are taken together with anxiety about new poverty, which has stabilized at a high level (28%; 2007: 25%), as the basis for an overall assessment of worries from a personal standpoint and from the standpoint of Switzerland in general, the figures indicate a steadily rising perception among a broad section of the population in recent years that they can buy less and less with their disposable income. This feeling is particularly pronounced among people who think that both their personal and the general economic situation will worsen.
Growing Concern about Inflation
In response to the question "Which of the five most important problems facing Switzerland do you think should be solved first?" unemployment still ranks first (15%) and worries about rising healthcare costs second (13%). Here, however, concern about inflation was mentioned by 9 percent of respondents and moved up to third place. Retirement provision, previously in third place, was given top priority by only 5 percent of respondents, so it came in only 6th behind "new poverty" and "social security", both of which were mentioned by 6 percent. These results show that the Swiss population seems to assume that the general economic situation will deteriorate, but that state old-age and disability pension schemes are safe in the short to medium term.
Worries about Foreigners Declining
Worries such as "refugees" (30%; 2007: 26%) and "personal safety" (27%; 2007: 30%), which regularly occupy leading places in the Worry Barometer, are again near the top this year (positions 5 and 7). However, worries about "foreigners" fell by a substantial 11 percentage points to 24 percent. After a sharp rise last year, concern about the environment was expressed by 23% of respondents, which takes it back to the level at the end of the 1990s.
Pressing Problems in Ten Years' Time
Current assessments of the five biggest worries in ten years' time are also informative. Here, too, unemployment ranks at the top of the list (46%), but "new poverty" (41%) has already moved into second place, displacing "retirement provision" (39%) and "healthcare costs" (35%). This is also a reflection of the anxiety felt by many Swiss that their personal financial situation could decline in the next ten years.
Less Confidence in Business and Politicians; Confidence in Federal Institutions Still High
Parallel to growing skepticism about the general economic development, the number of Swiss voters who feel that business and politicians frequently let us down has also increased. Whereas a year ago 32 percent thought that business often fails us, this year the figure is 40 percent. An even higher figure of 43 percent (2007: 38%) felt the political system was often not up to scratch.
Even then, confidence in individual institutions has remained extraordinarily consistent. The Federal Court (68%; 2007: 66%) and the police (63%; unchanged) continue to enjoy the greatest confidence. At the time of the survey, respondents' level of confidence in banks was still very high at 58 percent (2007: 60%). Moreover, the Federal Council managed to post a modest (53%; 2007: 51%) and the armed forces – despite frequent criticism in the period immediately before the survey period – a substantial gain (50%; 2007: 41%). The Swiss still have a comparatively critical attitude towards the European Union (28%), political parties (30%), and the UN (34%).
Greater Confidence in Television and Radio than in Newspapers
This year for the first time the survey examined confidence in the individual media rather than the entire media landscape. Respondents expressed greatest confidence in television and radio (54% and 53%, respectively); followed by paid-for newspapers at 48 percent, free newspapers at 36 percent, and the internet at 34 percent.
Population Proud to Be Swiss
A special survey on Swiss identity looked at the population's assessments of the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of Switzerland. Respondents identified the following as the main characteristics of what Switzerland stands for: security, neutrality, landscape, precision, and prosperity, feeling of "home", freedom, democracy, the Alps, and cleanliness. As in the previous year, 86 percent of persons eligible to vote were either very (42%; 2007: 43%) or somewhat proud (44%; 2007: 43%) to be Swiss. Only 5 percent were not proud or not at all proud to be Swiss. This last figure is remarkable inasmuch as it had fallen sharply in recent years: in 2007, 12 percent of the Swiss were not proud of their country and in 2006 the figure was as high as 22 percent.
Political and Economic Strengths
The most important reasons to be proud of the Swiss economy are the watchmaking industry (97%; 2007: 95%), the international reputation for quality (96%; 2007: 93%), strong Swiss brands (96%; 2007: 93%), successful SME's (96%; 2007: 93%), and the machine-building industry (93%; 2007: 92%). In the political sphere, the main values the Swiss are proud of include independence (94%; 2007: 91%), neutrality (93%; unchanged), citizens' rights (92%; 2007: 88%), peaceful coexistence of language groups (92%; 2007: 86%), and the Federal Constitution (87%; 2007: 84%).
Growing national pride goes hand in hand with growing awareness of traditional Swiss values. Given that the Swiss economy is traditionally export-oriented and internationally integrated, the pronounced sense of pride in it suggests that there is no cogent reason to equate the self-confident emphasis on "Swissness" with a conservative tendency to be insular.
Too many laws (52%), excessive taxes (46%), an excessively complicated and expensive health system (44%), an unfair tax system (36%), and too few strong politicians (30%) are the characteristics that the voters interviewed perceive as Switzerland's greatest weaknesses. In 2008, 29 percent of respondents still view multiculturalism as a weakness on the part of Switzerland, though its ranking has dropped from 5th to 6th place.
Once again, one question dealt explicitly with threats to Swiss identity. 71 percent of respondents named immigration, 61 percent the backlog of reforms, 58 percent international openness, 57 percent polarization, and 54 percent egoism.