Germanophobia in Switzerland


Theoretical background and objectives

This project considers two common assumptions that arise in the empirical literature on xenophobia—namely that xenophobic attitudes are found mostly among the poorly educated, and that xenophobia mainly concerns immigrants from low social classes and from geographically and culturally disparate nations. These arguments are discussed in the context of the migration of high-skilled Germans to Switzerland, a phenomenon that has increased markedly in the last few years, leading to major controversies. One might expect that the Swiss do not perceive Germans as a cultural threat as they are, at least at first sight, culturally similar. This argument can however be questioned in two ways. We first have to differentiate between objective similarity and subjectively perceived dissimilarity. As it turns out, the cultural difference between Germans and Swiss-Germans is considered to be very large in Switzerland. Second, some argue that boundaries between groups that are culturally very close are not necessarily less fragile. In a second step we question the common generalisation that working class people are more often xenophobic because they fear that immigrants take their jobs. As we are confronted in the case at hand with highly educated immigrants, it might be that in this case well-educated people in high positions feel threatened by the new arrivals. This would disconfirm the argument according to which better-educated people are more tolerant as they are more open-minded and have more cognitive capacities for differentiated perceptions.

Research design, data and methodology

To investigate our arguments both quantitative and qualitative data are analysed. In a first step, data from a survey conducted in the city of Zurich between October 1994 and March will be analysed. This is so far the only survey that includes relevant questions about German immigrants. More recent data on this topic will be collected in the context of the 2011 Swiss electoral survey (see project 2.5 above). Moreover, data from five focus group interviews with Swiss and Germans will be analysed. On the one hand, this allows us to better understand which arguments Swiss use to justify attitudes towards Germans and which aspects they dislike/criticise for which reasons. On the other hand, we will be in the position to study how Germans think about Swiss, why Germans migrated to Switzerland and how they feel abroad.


It turned out that German immigrants put in danger Swiss characteristics as much as immigrants from the Balkans. Socio-economic factors turned out to be relevant, too. Contrary to many other studies I found that education does not improve attitudes towards Germans. At the same time, I found that people who are young and seek to improve their job position are significantly more Germanophobic than those who are satisfied with their current job situation and are already established. It appears that as much as low-skilled workers fear that poorly educated immigrants take their jobs, well-educated Swiss consider German immigrants as competitors on the job market.

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Helbling, Marc (2011): "Why Swiss-Germans Dislike Germans. Opposition to Culturally Similar and Highly Skilled Immigrants". In: European Societies, Vol. 13, No. 1, S. 5-27.
Helbling, Marc (2010): Germanophobia in Switzerland. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2010-702. Berlin: WZB.