Credit Suisse Worry Barometer 2021: COVID-19 pandemic, the climate, AHV insurance – a trio of worries tops the list for the first time
The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences have topped the list of worries in Switzerland again in 2021, followed closely by environmental protection and climate change, as well as concerns about AHV insurance / retirement provision. Only 14% of Swiss voters consider unemployment to be a problem. Furthermore, just as they did in 2020, two-thirds of respondents described their personal economic situation as good or very good despite the pandemic. These are the findings of this year's Credit Suisse Worry Barometer.
On behalf of Credit Suisse, the research institute gfs.bern conducted a survey of Swiss voters once again this year to gauge their concerns and ask them about their country's identifying characteristics. Just like last year, the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts ranked top for 2021 (respondents were asked to list their five largest worries). However, the problem is considered somewhat less urgent this year. Instead of the majority (51%) seen last year, now just 40% count the pandemic as one of their five main worries. For 39% of voters, climate change (+10 percentage points) and retirement provision (+2 percentage points) are also their main worries, and for the first time a trio of worries has topped the list.
The five most pressing topics for 2021 also include the state of Switzerland’s relationship with Europe (33%) and the changes (in terms of costs) to healthcare and health insurance plans (25%). The two concerns relating to the topic of movement of people (foreign nationals / immigration and/or refugees / asylum seekers) ranked sixth and seventh, and 17% of voters listed higher housing costs and an increase in rents this year among the ten largest challenges. Unemployment and energy supply issues were each a concern for 14% of respondents. When Swiss people were asked about the most urgent issue that needs to be addressed, the most common response was also the COVID pandemic and its effects (20%), followed by environmental protection and climate change (18%).
Manuel Rybach, Global Head of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Credit Suisse, commented: "The COVID-19 pandemic, which went straight to first place in last year's Worry Barometer, is now sharing the lead with two other concerns. Above all, this probably demonstrates the trust of the population in the ability of Switzerland and its leaders to stay strong. This confidence is also reflected by the change in the number of people who are concerned about unemployment. Although more than a million employees in Switzerland were on short-time working for a while, and the issue of unemployment was the number one worry in this country at one time, it is losing significance even in these uncertain economic times and has reached a record low this year in the Worry Barometer."
"Classic worries, such as unemployment or immigration, seem to be fading gradually into the background. Issues with more of a post-materialistic nature that focus on social justice as a concern are gaining momentum. The question is whether this marks the start of a gradual and long-term shift in the Worry Barometer or is just a temporary phenomenon at the present time. As for topics such as the environment and equal rights, which are not just a short-lived trend but part of the electorate's core values – especially for younger generations – these developments will most likely continue in the future," says Cloé Jans, Operations Manager for gfs.bern, which has been conducting the Credit Suisse Worry Barometer survey since 1995.
Resilience in the second phase of the pandemic
When the survey was carried out in July and August 2021, a majority of voters (65%) – unchanged from last year – said that they were currently doing very well or well in economic terms. Over the past 25 years, this figure was exceeded only in 2016 (68%). Even when asked about the future, a clear majority of voters is optimistic that they could at least maintain (75%) or even improve (12%) their current prosperity. Compared to a year ago, the number of voters who expect their financial situation to decline has returned to pre-pandemic levels (10%). The respondents' optimism about their own job security has risen again year on year. At present, 87% of employed voters are confident that their jobs are secure, and 34% even say that their jobs are very secure.
Manuel Rybach added, "The recent past shows that Switzerland is fairly resistant to crises overall and is very resilient, at least when looking at the opinions of voters. As for the question about their current economic health or their assessment of their economic situation in the future, for instance, crises such as the financial crisis (starting in 2008), the euro crisis (starting in 2010), the Swiss franc shock (2015), and now the COVID-19 pandemic have not led to much lower results in the Worry Barometer. While the crises since the end of the 1990s have been mainly economic in nature and were well managed thanks to Switzerland's robust financial health, the current COVID-19 crisis affects more than just financial aspects. It is also creating uncertainty about life within society and whether the country's political system can operate as normal."
Switzerland has performed well so far in the crisis - but there is no profiling
After a sharp rise in trust in nearly all government and political leaders last year, trust has declined slightly in 2021. For the fourth consecutive time, the most trusted agency is the police (63% of respondents expressed their trust; -7 percentage points), which now ranks the same as the Federal Council (-5 percentage points). They are followed by the Federal Supreme Court (60%) and the Swiss National Bank (51%). In addition to the trust placed in the Federal Council, there was a significant decline in trust in the Swiss Parliament (Council of States: 42%, -9 percentage points; National Council: 42%, -6 pp percentage points) and in public administration (39%, -9 percentage points). As before, churches and the EU were not considered trustworthy by most respondents (both 19%).
Nevertheless, Switzerland still scores highly even in this fundamental crisis. In total, 57% of voters believe that Switzerland is doing better than any other country during the pandemic, and 69% feel that Switzerland has been a land of solidarity during the crisis. However, there are some doubts as to whether federalism is the best form of organization in times of crisis and uncertainty. Under such circumstances, at least 63% wish for more powers for the federal government and less for the cantons. A majority (55%) also felt that the government did not manage the crisis adequately when the second wave of COVID-19 broke out in the fall of 2020. And 79% even felt that the pandemic has shown a need for the advancement of digitalization in politics.
Composure and self-confidence versus Europe
In May 2021, the Federal Council unilaterally stated that the talks dating back to 2014 about an institutional framework agreement between Switzerland and the EU were over. However, the vast majority does not believe there is much resentment towards Switzerland as a result of this decision. A good 90% of the population believes that Switzerland has a good or very good image in other countries. In fact, 35% (-1 percentage point) even feel that its image has improved a little or a lot in the last 12 months. With specific regard to the end of negotiations, the results of the Worry Barometer could be interpreted as support for Switzerland's foreign policy: A modest majority of 51% feel that the decision was definitely correct (21%) or mostly correct (30%), while a minority of 40% feel that the Federal Council's response was definitely wrong (16%) or mostly wrong (24%).
The break in negotiations, however, is not considered an offensive act by respondents: 66% (-3 percentage points) of voters consider Swiss foreign policy to be somewhat or very defensive – but not only with regard to the negotiations with the EU, of course. In general, 75% (+2 percentage points) of the Swiss population wants Switzerland to go more on the offensive in terms of its foreign policy. In the last 12 years, this figure in the Worry Barometer was higher only in 2014. The break in negotiations has not changed anything with regard to general attitudes, however. A clear majority of 76% (-1 percentage point) still thinks that a stable relationship between Switzerland and the EU is quite important or very important.
The population thinks the goal of the next round of talks with the EU is clear: The institutional framework agreement must be discussed again. Out of seven available options, 33% view the institutional framework agreement as the preferred solution. Taking the first three preferred options into account, three-quarters of Swiss voters (74%) would be in favor of this approach. A majority would also be in favor of continuing the bilateral agreements without further development (63%) or membership in the EEA (52%). At the moment, joining the EU is not a priority (20%) nor is terminating the bilateral agreements (22%) and going it alone.
Overview: The most important insights from the 2021 Credit Suisse Worry Barometer
1. Top worries: For the second time in succession, Swiss respondents named the COVID-19 pandemic as their main worry (40%), but in nearly the same breath they also listed climate change and retirement provisions (39% each).
2. Worries about unemployment decline: The subject of EU/bilateral/integration occupies fourth place (33%) on the list of worries due to termination of the negotiations on an institutional framework agreement between Switzerland and the EU. The topic of health / health insurance plans comes quite far behind this (25%). While once a top concern, unemployment is now in ninth place at 14% – a historic low, despite the pandemic.
3. Swiss resilience: Voters remain crisis resistant even in the second year of the pandemic. In total, 65% said that at the time of the survey, they were doing well or even very well in financial terms, and 87% of voters who were in employment were confident about their job security. Furthermore, 57% felt that Switzerland was faring better than any other country during the pandemic, and 69% said that Switzerland was a land of solidarity during the crisis. When asked about the future, a clear majority remained optimistic that it could at least maintain (75%) or even improve (12%) their financial health.
4. Room for improvement identified: The respondents listed poor crisis management (55%) and the delayed progress in digitalization (79%) as obstacles to managing the pandemic. Federalism is now considered problematic as well. In fact, 63% of voters said they would like to see more authority for the federal government and less for the cantons in this type of situation.
5. Confidence in institutions: The Federal Council (63% confirmed their trust, -5 percentage points) and the Swiss Parliament (Council of States: 42%, -9 percentage points; National Council: 42%, -6 percentage points) and public administration (39%, -9 percentage points) lost the additional trust they had gained last year. For the fourth consecutive time, the most trusted agency is the police (63%, -7 percentage points); it now ranks the same as the Federal Council, which still enjoys a relatively high degree of trust.
6. Self-confidence about Europe: 51% of voters feel that the break in negotiations by the Federal Council on an institutional framework agreement between Switzerland and the EU was absolutely correct (21%) or mostly correct (30%). Voters would like to see a new framework agreement in future. A majority of 75% would like Switzerland to go more on the offensive in general in terms of its foreign policy.