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European Social Survey


The European Social Survey (ESS) is a cross-national survey that has been conducted every two years since 2002 in around 30 European countries. In each country, a minimum of 1,500 respondents answer a one-hour face-to-face interview. Switzerland has participated in all rounds since the very beginning. The respondents are drawn from a probabilistic sample representing the countries’ population aged 15 and above.

The ESS measures values, attitudes and behavioral patterns of the populations of European countries. In order to obtain internationally comparable data of high quality, the methodological specifications of the survey are very precise and rigorous. The project’s scientific quality yielded it the highly esteemed Descartes Prize in 2005.

The questionnaire is divided into two parts. A first part, the so called “core module”, is composed of socio-political, socio-economic and socio-psychological questions. The core module also gathers information regarding the respondent’s socio-demographic profile. These questions remain the same in each round. The second part includes two or more periodically repeated modules that focus on specific topics. The purpose of these rotating modules is to provide a broader insight into a series of issues that are of particular academic or policy concern. A supplementary section is dedicated to the Schwartz’ human values scale and a set of experimental tests.

The main aims of the ESS are:

  • to produce a continuous series of valuable data for comparisons over time and across countries that monitor the evolution of values, attitudes, and behavioral patterns in the European societies,
  • to establish and transmit higher standards in the comparative international social sciences (e.g., questionnaire design and pre-testing, sampling strategies, translation procedures, data collection and processing),
  • to make more visible and accessible statistical data on social change in Europe,  not only for researchers and policy makers, but also for the media and the wider public.

Structure and Funding

Initiated by the European Science Foundation, the ESS is coordinated by the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys at the City University of London. By the end of 2013, the ESS was awarded the Status of a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). ERICs offer unique research opportunities to the participating countries and are highly enhancing the advancement of knowledge and the development of technology.

The ESS-ERIC is governed by a General Assembly which has three standing committees: a Scientific Advisory Board, a Methods Advisory Board and a Finance Committee. Switzerland is represented in the General Assembly by Prof. Georg Lutz and in the Scientific Advisory Board by Prof. Christian Staerklé. The design and operationalization of the survey (methodological decisions, survey topics, development of the source questionnaire, archiving of the data) are carried out by the Core Scientific Team at the City University London. This work is supported by partners at different research centers:

Each participating European country carries out the survey according to the methodological rules established by the central ESS-ERIC team. In the case of Switzerland, it is FORS that is in charge of directing the survey. Under the lead of Dr. Michèle Ernst Staehli, the Swiss ESS-Team performs the following tasks: Translation of the English source questionnaire into three national languages (French, German, and Italian), sample drawing for Switzerland, development of specific survey methods, cleaning, processing and documentation of the Swiss ESS Data. The fieldwork is carried out by a specialized agency.

The international project planning and organization, the questionnaire development, and the data archiving are financed by the members of the ESS-ERIC. The planning and operationalization of the survey in Switzerland is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).


The ESS is characterized by scientific rigor and methodological sophistication. Three aspects are particularly important:

The source questionnaire must be developed very carefully in order to allow cross-country comparisons. The questions are pre-tested in several countries. Emphasis is placed also on the quality of question translations. The specialists of the ESS Core Scientific Team guide the national teams in their translation procedures. The specific practice for translation and assessment is called TRAPD (translation, review, adjudication, pretesting, and documentation).

Regional or international events can strongly affect attitudes and perceptions of survey participants. An act of terrorism or an economic crisis can have a strong impact on responses. Thus, the ESS records important media events during fieldwork (ESS media claims). This allows future data analysts a better understanding of the national contexts in which the questions were asked.

The quality of a survey depends in a high degree on the sample drawing procedures. The Core Scientific Team is supported by a group of specialists who advises and validates the national samples. In order to get a sample as representative as possible of the populations studied, the protocol forbids quota samples and encourages the participating countries to achieve high response rates. To this effect, the methodological procedures are constantly improved (e.g., intensive interviewer training). Since the third round, Switzerland has obtained a response rate of more than 50 percent, which is an exceptional result for the country. The interview is held face-to-face and lasts about one hour. Each interviewer conducts only a limited number of interviews in order to improve the quality of the raised data.

Summary table of the methodological features of the European Social Survey

  • Target population: All individuals aged 15 and above who reside in Switzerland
  • People surveyed: Random sample, with a minimum of 1,500 respondents
  • Mode: Face-to-face interviews, CAPI

Sample Construction:

2002-2004: Random sampling in three stages:

  • Sample of newal codes representing all regions of Switzerland
  • Selection of a specified number of households from each of the sampled newal codes
  • Random draw of one person within each household

2006-2008: Random sampling in two stages:

  • Selection of a determinate number of households in every region of Switzerland (national register of phone numbers and addresses)
  • Random draw of one person within each household/address

Since 2010: Random sampling in one stage:

  • The ESS is declared a survey of national importance and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. Hence, a sample of individuals can be drawn randomly from the sampling register of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, according to Art. 13c, para. 2, lett. d, order of 30th June 1993 regarding the implementation of federal statistical surveys.


The questionnaire is divided into a main part with core questions that remain unchanged in every round and a second part which focuses on specific topics that are periodically repeated.

The core module aims to study the evolution of a large spectrum of social indicators. These include the use of media, the degree of trust in the social environment, political participation and perception of institutions, subjective well-being, feelings about discrimination, attitudes toward exclusion, as well as national, ethnic, and religious identity. The core module also includes a part that allows gathering information on the socio-demographic profile of the respondents. The repeated nature of the core module allows for the observation of these topics’ changes over time.

The rotating modules that focus on specific themes vary with each round of the ESS. Research groups propose modules on specific topics. Sometimes, it’s a new theme (e.g., Fairness and Justice), sometimes, it’s a module that has been administered in previous years (e.g., Timing of Life has been carried out in 2006). These modules allow for the expansion or deepening of certain topics.

supplementary section is dedicated to the Schwartz’ human values scale and a series of experimental tests.


Core modules
A) Media and social trust
B) Politics
C) Subjective well-being, social exclusion, religion, national identity
F) Socio demographics

Rotating modules
D) Timing of Life
G) Fairness and Justice

Additional modules
G) Human values
Test questions

Core modules
A) Media and social trust
B) Politics
C) Subjective well-being, social exclusion, religion, national identity
F) Socio demographics

Rotating modules
D) Welfare attitudes
E) Public attitudes to climate change

Additional modules
G) Human values
Test questions


After fieldwork is completed, FORS will review and verify the data and process it, so it can be integrated into the central data archive of the ESS. The anonymized datasets of the ESS are freely available to researchers and other interested people after previous registration and agreement to the data use conditions. The data can be downloaded as SAS or SPSS files from the ESS website. For users without access to statistical software, the ESS website provides an online tool to analyze the data.

The Swiss ESS-data are also available on the FORS NESSTAR SERVER. Only this server provides access to additional, country-specific questions surveyed in Switzerland and to German and French versions of the data set. Further information on the survey, the data and variables are also available there. NESSTAR, however, provides only a limited set of the Swiss ESS-data. The overall dataset is available through the FORSbase data catalogue.

For cross-country comparisons, the data have to be weighted by population size of the respective countries in order to assure the correct representation of each country. The ESS calculates these weights for all participating countries (see ESS population size weights). Depending on the national sampling design, the data of some countries have to be weighted to account for sampling design bias (see ESS design weights). For Switzerland, only the ESS data from 2002 to 2008 need the application of such design weights. Starting from 2010, the respondents are drawn from a one stage national random sample of individuals and, hence, no weights need to be applied.

Researchers are hold to respect the data use conditions, in particular the proper citation in articles or other forms of publications. All publications that make reference to the data must be communicated to the ESS Bibliography.

-        Citations

Users who want to expand their knowledge on statistics in social sciences can attend a free online-course: EDUNET provides theory as well as practical tutorials including correction/proofing with ESS-data.

Interesting links:

Further documents:

Research results/publications

The ESS is one of the most important data sources for the comparative social sciences. Many researchers use ESS data on a daily basis and there is a huge number of publications that made use of the ESS data. Moreover, ESS data are used for students’ training at many universities.

ESS keeps a list of publications that make use of ESS data.

ESS 2014: Topline Results on Social Inequalities in Health and Attitudes towards Immigration

ESS 2012: Topline Results on Personal and Social Wellbeing