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Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Various international and national social work ethical principles call social workers to participate in politics, although not all social workers in the USA and Switzerland embrace politics in their professional practice. A growing body of social work literature addresses social workers’ participation in politics. This article presents a comparative study of political participation, political efficacy, and political ideology among social workers in the USA and Switzerland. This study used two separate cross-sectional surveys to better understand the political participation, political efficacy, and political ideology of social workers in the USA (n = 3033) and Switzerland (n = 1242). The results indicate that US social workers are more politically active and have a higher internal sense of political efficacy than Swiss social workers. Regarding political ideology, the Swiss participants position themselves more clearly on the left wing than their US colleagues. As one of few international practice comparison pieces, this article aims to further stimulate research on political activity of social workers. For this purpose, starting points are by further developing the political efficacy of social workers and further educating social workers during and after social work education about engaging in justice-related activities to better society and the lives of their clients.

A growing body of social work literature addresses social workers’ participation in politics, both in the USA and across the globe. Although political participation has been an integral part of the social work profession starting from the Progressive Era in the USA (Stern and Axinn 2017), social workers direct involvement crests and falls according to broader national and international forces, such as war, movements away from democratic governments, capital earnings over fair labor laws and practices, and inequitable social and economic policies. Currently, a renewed effort to integrate politics into social work practice internationally appears to be overlooked in the USA, where social workers seem reluctant to challenge political actors and systems of power as part of their practice—although such challenge is central to social work values and ethics (Ostrander 2017). Political participation is an ethical standard of the US National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (2017) and the Swiss Association of Social Workers, AvenirSocial (2010) Code of Ethics, and the International Federation of Social Workers (2018) mission statement, and the Council on Social Work Education’s (2015) Educational Policies and Accreditation Standards. These professional, ethical, and values-based mandates charge social workers to confront social injustice in all forms and advocate for systematic change, which requires one to hold political opinions and wield power (Abrams and Moio 2009; Ortiz and Jani 2010; Reisch and Jani 2010; Weinberg 2010).


Published online 26 November 2020. Version posted is the authors' preprint.

Citation for the final published version:

Ostrander, J., Kindler, T., & Bryan, J. (2021). Using the civic voluntarism model to compare the political participation of US and Swiss social workers. Journal of Policy Practice and Research, 2, 4-19. Doi: 10.1007/s42972-020-00020-z





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