The popularity of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has plunged to a historic low, according to a regular University of Hong Kong (HKU) survey released on Tuesday.

The city’s leader Carrie Lam scored 32.8 marks, indicating a rapid drop of 10.5 points from two weeks prior. Her approval rating now sits at 23 per cent, with a disapproval rating of 67 per cent – it gives Lam a net approval rating of negative 44 per cent, representing a 20 per cent decline. Both her popularity rating and net popularity mark a new low compared with all former Chief Executives since the question was first asked about the Hong Kong governor in 1992.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. File photo:

The findings come amid weeks of protest against the government’s controversial extradition bill, which would enable the chief executive and local courts to handle case-by-case fugitive transfer requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, most notably China. The bill was suspended on June 15 due, in part, to recent unrest.

The Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong (HKUPOP) interviewed 1,015 residents by random telephone survey from June 17 to 20, in the wake of a record “two million” person march calling for a complete withdrawal of the controversial bill.

The survey also showed that the popularity of the government had rapidly declined over the past month. Only 18 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with the Hong Kong government, with 72 per cent dissatisfied – marking a decline of 25 per cent. Meanwhile, public trust in the government stood at 28 per cent, with distrust at 60 per cent – marking a decline of 18 per cent. Both figures represent record lows since the survey questions were first asked in 2003 and 1992 respectively.

‘Sharp plunge’

HKUPOP said a sharp plunge by 17.6 points in the Public Sentiment Index (PSI) was uncommon. The PSI includes government and societal appraisal to explain and predict the likelihood of collective behaviour. The drop was the second largest in history, but did not reach an all-time low.

PSI HKUPOP June 2019
Public Sentiment Index, Society Appraisal and Government Appraisal results from July 1992 to June 2019. Photo: HKUPOP.

‘The rallies, protests and related controversies as a result of the amendments of the extradition bill appear to have affected public opinion to a fairly large extent,” said Research Manager Frank Lee. “In-depth analysis shows that the younger and the more educated the respondents, the more critical they are of Carrie Lam as Chief Executive in terms of both support rate and rating.”

“Compared with all former [leaders], Carrie Lam’s popularity rating is at [an] all-time low now, her net popularity is record low since June 2017,” Lee added.

Robert Chung, founder and director of HKUPOP, called on Lam and the government to find a way to resolve the political crisis.

China extradition protest admiralty clash
Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

The results also come after the city’s embattled leader made a public apology over the extradition debacle last Tuesday, two days after the government issued a written apology which sparked a protest over Lam’s failure to directly address residents. She has otherwise not met the press in over a week.

During the 2017 chief executive election campaign Lam said: “If the mainstream opinion of Hong Kong people renders me unsuitable to serve as chief executive, I will resign.”

The survey was the second-last to be conducted in association with HKU, as the opinion poll institute is set to become an independent body – the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute – led by Chung.

HKUPOP said it will release one more survey on Hongkongers’ ethnic identity at a date yet to be announced.

Finance chief Paul Chan will be attended the G20 summit in Japan to represent Hong Kong on Friday, whilst protests continue in the city calling for the full withdrawal of the extradition bill.

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Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.