The first in-depth study of racist and xenophobic attitudes in Switzerland has revealed that one in four people has negative opinions of foreigners in general, one in five is hostile to Muslims and one in ten is anti-Semitic.
In a series of face-to-face interviews conducted between 2010 and 2014, gfs.bern researchers probed the mind-set of Swiss citizens and foreign residents, looking for systematic and repeated expressions of xenophobia.
The overall trend of xenophobia showed a decline, from 30% harbouring negative opinions towards foreigners in 2010 to 24% in 2014. These were respondents who, for example, favoured a restrictive naturalisation policy and perceived foreigners as social welfare cheats.
Attitudes towards foreigners and other groups were measured in a variety of ways, such as how people felt about their neighbours, how freely they expressed their opinions in public, how they felt in the presence of “others” and what stereotypes or negative views they agreed with.
When it came to “being bothered” by the presence of people of other skin colours, religions, nationalities or languages in public, only 6% of respondents went this far.
The most dynamic results by far related to Muslims. The survey first measured anti-Muslim sentiment in the aftermath of a 2009 national vote to ban the construction of minarets. At that time (April 2010) 45% of respondents admitted to subscribing to negative stereotypes of Muslims.
This had dropped to 19% four years later when the final survey was conducted. But that was just a measure of perceived stereotypes. Over the same period, in a straight measure of negative attitudes towards Muslims, the proportion of people who expressed those ideas and feelings increased from 13% to 18%.
These were people who answered yes to questions like: “Would you like there to be no Muslims in Switzerland?”, “Should the practising of Islam be forbidden in Switzerland?” and “Should Muslims not be allowed to immigrate here?”
“From this we can deduce that we have a stable base of 20% of Swiss residents harbouring negative attitudes towards Muslims and a further volatile 20% to 30% with potential hostility towards Muslims,” Claude Longchamp of the gfs research institute told swissinfo.ch.
Michele Galizia of the Service for Combating Racism at the interior ministry said more preventive work was needed in this area. “The stereotyping in the media and politics of certain population groups has a significant effect on attitudes,” he said.
Not in my workplace
Scepticism towards foreigners in the workplace was found to be increasing. Some 27% of those surveyed in 2014 said that the nationality of work colleagues mattered, up from 18% four years earlier.
Certain nationalities are clearly out of favour. While more than 80% said they could imagine working with an Italian, Austrian or French person, Germans were seen as potential co-workers by slightly fewer respondents – 75%.
Only a minority of those surveyed imagined working with Russians (45%), Turks (31%), Africans (30%) or Arabs (28%). Albanian (26%) was the least popular nationality, although its position improved significantly over the four-year period tested.
Galizia said tackling discrimination in the labour market was a priority area. “The indicators show us that racism today is different from the political, ideological-based racism of the Second World War and previous times. Today racism is a phenomenon of the whole of society. The workplace is a central place where people have to live together and where conflicts can develop and can be very destructive.”
Anti-Semitic attitudes remained stable throughout the test period. One in ten people admitted to having negative opinions about Jews in each of the three survey sittings: 2010, 2012 and 2014.
These opinions included the notions that Jews had too much influence worldwide and in Switzerland, that they exploited the Holocaust, were more loyal to Israel and responsible for their own persecution.
While Muslims showed higher levels of anti-Semitic attitudes, both Christians and people with no religion were well represented. The typical profile of a person with anti-Semitic opinions was Swiss, male, elderly, living in the countryside or a small town in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, with a low level of education and income, and tending to vote for the Christian Democrats or the Swiss People’s Party.
“It is known that anti-Semitism is a historic phenomenon in Switzerland that goes back to the Middle Ages and is still present today. It is present to quite a stable extent, in contrast to the much more recent volatile sentiment against Muslims,” Longchamp told swissinfo.ch.
“It is a fairly fixed group in the population amounting to one in ten people with anti-Semitic attitudes. So it is a phenomenon that is not particularly prevalent in relation to other countries but also not subject to being influenced.”
On Wednesday, the cabinet decided to make this monitoring model a regular feature of federal data gathering. From 2016 it will be carried out every two years by the federal statistical office as part of its census programme.
The survey was commissioned by the Service for Combatting Racism at the interior ministry.
Researchers carried out interviews, on average 55 minutes long, with Swiss residents aged over 14.
The respondents were recruited in public in the different language regions.
The interviews were carried out in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
A total of around 1,700 people were questioned each year – 1,000 Swiss and 700 foreign residents.
By Clare O’Dea, swissinfo.ch