Politics For Members

Why do foreigners in Switzerland trust the government more than the Swiss?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected]
Why do foreigners in Switzerland trust the government more than the Swiss?
A flag thrower performs with a Swiss flag in front of the Parliament. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

People living in Switzerland have a high level of trust in their public authorities. This pertains not only to Swiss citizens, but to foreigners as well.


Unlike citizens of many countries around the world who mistrust their elected officials, the Swiss are different.

A study published in 2020 by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) shows that “confidence in the national government in Switzerland is the highest among OECD countries…85 percent of respondents reported trust in government in Switzerland, in comparison to an average of 51 percent among OECD countries."

This high level of trust can be seen in various areas of life, such as in public finances, healthcare, justice, and education.

The reason for this vote of confidence is that, unlike other countries, the Swiss have a direct say in how their government works. Their system of grassroots democracy allows them to make decisions about what legislation should be enacted and which laws should be rejected — in other words, they create the policies that impact their lives.

READ MORE:  How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works


So this confidence in the government on the part of Switzerland’s citizens is not surprising.

What is surprising, however, is a finding of another study showing that immigrants to Switzerland have a higher level of trust in the state than the Swiss themselves.

Most of the foreigners surveyed said they have either “high” or “very high” faith in Swiss institutions, which include, for the purpose of the study, the Federal Council, the parliament, the government/cantonal administration, the authorities of the commune of residence, and the courts in Switzerland.

The participants included both immigrants and dual nationals — that is, foreigners who have both Swiss and foreign passports.

How can these results be explained?

A more detailed analysis of the responses revealed that the majority of foreigners who placed high faith in Swiss institutions came from countries where the government and the political system are less pro-people than in Switzerland.

On the whole, these immigrants appreciate Swiss system of democracy and the way public institutions function, in addition to all the economic benefits they get when working in Switzerland.

This, however, is not the whole picture.

The survey also showed that even people from northern and western Europe, whose governments are democratic in their own right, also have a high regard for the Swiss system.

As one Swiss media outlet commented, “this suggests that other, more subjective factors are at work. " 


Like the government, but not so much the Swiss

While foreigners give thumbs-up to Switzerland’s public institutions, they are less enthralled with the Swiss people.

Many foreigners who live in Switzerland say locals are aloof and unfriendly toward them.

While certainly true in some cases, in others it seems to be more of an urban myth than a fact.

In 2021, The Local reached out to readers to ask about their integration experiences - and whether they found making friends to be difficult. 

One longtime resident of Geneva, who is originally from the United States, found that most Swiss are not unfriendly or suspicious of foreigners.

Rather, they approach friendships the same way they do everything else: slowly and cautiously.


“It’s not in their nature to make friends immediately, like Americans do,” she told The Local, based on her own experience.

“The Swiss have the innate sense of privacy — their own and other people’s. That’s why it takes them longer to befriend someone and trust them.”.

She said this is more the case with the older generation accustomed to rules of social etiquette, adding: “Young people are more open and spontaneous in this regard.”

Others did confirm that establishing social relationships with the Swiss is difficult.

READ MORE : ‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?




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