Hong Kong’s government has come under increasing pressure on account of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and complicity in supporting both last year’s extradition bill and last month’s national security law that Beijing has imposed on Hong Kong. Protests have erupted over the restriction of individual liberties and freedom of speech, as well as the Hong Kong Government’s opposition to the United Kingdom’s offer of potential British National Overseas citizenship to Hong Kong residents, among other controversial positions. Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll to assess the scale of discontent that citizens of Hong Kong harboured towards their government.
Our research has found that 63% of the Hong Kong public have no confidence in its government compared to only 37% who do.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city’s highest-ranking official, has received criticism for her viewpoints and the circumstances the country faces. She has praised the new security law that was laid down by the People’s Republic of China, denied the existence of widespread fear among her population, refused to budge on protestors’ demands, and presided over the economy’s decline into a recession which predated the pandemic. It is with this context that we find a majority of 57% disapproving of Lam’s performance, heavily outweighing the 20% who approve.
Public discontent is at such a level that 55% of respondents believe Lam should resign from her position as Chief Executive, compared to just 25% are in favour of her remaining in power.
Previous polls have indicated broad concerns over the infringement of citizens’ freedoms and liberties, as protests have frequently been accompanied by violence and injury. Up to 88% of Hong Kong residents may have been exposed to tear gas according to Bloomberg, while a study found that one in three residents have reported symptoms of PTSD in the last year. Concerns have been accentuated by the new law, intended to act as “a sharp sword hanging high” over the heads of potential offenders, as described by the deputy director of the central Chinese government office in Hong Kong. Hundreds were arrested on the first day the law was passed, and now face being extradited to the Mainland to face trial and potential imprisonment, with handpicked judges. In the face of such ominous warnings, a majority (58%) believe their level of freedom is currently under threat.
Although these questions portray a majority of the population expressing discontent towards their government’s performance, it appears that not all of this group necessarily align themselves with the beliefs and methods of the protestors. While the 43% who approve of the protestors’ actions still constitute a plurality, it is significant that the percentage who supports the protesters is lower than the percentage who expressed anti-government sentiment in previous questions.
A number of concerns might explain this difference in support: high-profile acts of violence and vandalism on the part of protestors which target both private and public sector buildings; the potentially irreversible economic damage that protests are inflicting; and protestors’ lack of social distancing that could be increasing the spread of the virus, a view we found in other countries facing domestic unrest. Nevertheless, a strong plurality believes, in some configuration, that the protestors’ activism outweighs risks of spreading the virus, the protest movement maintains good intentions, or the acts of violence and vandalism carried out by certain protestors are justified.
An appreciable 32% expressed neither approval nor disapproval for the protestors. It may be the case that some respondents are reluctant to indicate their support for protests given fears of state surveillance. That said, the size of this group would imply that there are members of the population who neither approve of the government’s performance nor are convinced by the protestors’ actions. This group may instead prefer alternative means of expressing their discontent.
A significant minority indicated they would engage in various direct forms of activism to protect their democratic and legal rights, should they feel they are under serious threat. This minority is substantial enough to be a genuine concern for authorities and demonstrates a considerable degree of determination among Hong Kong residents to protect their democratic and legal rights. Indeed, only a third (33%) said they would do nothing in the event of increasing CCP control in Hong Kong. Most interesting of all is that the coercive new law has done little to cow the regime’s opponents, who are still almost as likely to engage in acts of defiance as they were before the legislation.
A whole quarter of the population expressed their full allegiance to defending the freedom of Hong Kong, claiming they would be willing to risk their life for the cause. Again, the new law has had little effect on public spirit, as this proportion remains within the margin of error to our results last month.
Our results altogether clearly indicate that the majority of Hong Kong’s population consistently disapprove of the Government. Public discontent is at such a level that its handling of the coronavirus crisis was deemed poor by a majority of 59%, even though the death toll in territory has remained remarkably low. In the face of this relatively successful handling, it would appear that the disapproval is symptomatic of broader anger towards the Government.
To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.