Why foreign residents trust the authorities more than the Swiss

A residence permit for foreigners living in Switzerland. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

The Swiss have a high level of trust in their political institutions but foreign residents are even more trusting. Sociologists put forward several explanations.

This content was published on June 28, 2020 - 11:01

A survey published by The Observatory of Volunteering this June analysed the trust that the population places in others and in institutions, because trust and commitment are intimately linked.  Among the highlights, the researchers behind the study noted that "foreigners living in Switzerland have more trust in the country's political institutions than the local population", even though the Swiss authorities already enjoy one of the highest levels of trust in the world.

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Almost two thirds of the foreigners surveyed report a high level of trust in the institutions, compared to half of Swiss citizens. It should be pointed out that the category "foreigners" is not homogeneous. Nevertheless, these results are stable compared to 2016, and in line with the latest publication of the Federal Statistical Office (FSO) on the subject.

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A comparison that benefits Switzerland?  

The most intuitive way to explain this discrepancy is to assume that an objective comparison end up in Switzerland’s favour. A proportion of foreigners might consider the Swiss system to be particularly efficient, honest, etc. compared to that of their own country. While this hypothesis cannot be excluded, it should logically be especially true for people from countries less democratic than Switzerland.

However, the FSO figures, broken down according to the geographical origin of the foreigners, show that immigrants from northern or western Europe - where political institutions generally also enjoy a high level of trust - are also those who give the Swiss authorities the most credit. This suggests that other, more subjective factors are at work.  

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Increased pressure to follow the rules

Sandro Cattacin, director of the Institute for Sociological Research at the University of Geneva, sees it mainly as a sign of "increased pressure to follow the rules" felt by foreigners. According to the sociologist specialising in migration issues, "in order to be accepted in their host country, immigrants feel pressure to behave in a more compliant manner" than the local population.  

This could result in over-commitment to politics and/or associations and, more generally, in behaviour towards the state that is considered to be correct. 

"When you are Swiss, you can allow yourself to express mistrust of institutions, but not when you are a foreigner," says the researcher, who is also a member of the scientific committee of the Observatory of Voluntary Work.

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