Tang closing the popularity gap
Gary Cheung and Colleen Lee
Chief executive hopeful Henry Tang Ying-yen is closing the gap in the popularity ratings with his key opponent, although he is still 13 percentage points behind Leung Chun-ying, according to a new survey.
Leung remains the most popular choice to be the city's next leader, with support from 42.9 per cent of 1,022 respondents polled from Monday to Thursday. Tang came second with 29.7 per cent, while Albert Ho Chun-yan trailed in the third place with 9.1 per cent. Another 18.3 per cent expressed no preference.
The poll, conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme, was the first of the five weekly surveys co-commissioned by the South China Morning Post.
An earlier survey conducted from November 28 to December 1 showed Leung's support was almost double Tang's, at 47.3 per cent of 1,012 respondents.
Tang was backed by 23.8 per cent of respondents in that survey while 3.7 per cent opted for Democratic Party chairman Ho.
Tang, the former chief secretary, has cut into Leung's lead in popularity from 23.5 percentage points in the last poll to 13.2 percentage points in the latest survey.
Chan Kin-man, an associate professor with the Chinese University's sociology department, said the drop in Leung's popularity partly stemmed from his high-profile criticism of Sing Tao Daily, which last month reported alleged investment losses by Leung.
'But Leung's edge of 13.2 percentage points over Tang is still considerable,' Chan said.
'If Tang fails to further narrow the gap in the next two months and his popularity ratings remain below 30 per cent, the central government would find it hard justifying its support for him.'
Tang is seen as the preferred candidate of Beijing and the business community. The city's next leader will be chosen on March 25 by the 1,200-member Election Committee, which is made up of Beijing-loyalist businesspeople and professionals.
Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said Tang had managed to close the gap in popularity ratings with Leung in the past few weeks, but Tang's momentum in catching up appeared to be slowing.
'I'm not sure whether the latest poll reflects the latest development in the election battle,' Ma said.
The latest survey was conducted days after Tang criticised the Urban Renewal Authority for selling 'pricey' and 'fancy' flats. The authority is headed by Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, Leung's campaign office chairman.
On January 15, Tang referred to unauthorised structures on the small houses of male indigenous villagers as 'so-called illegal structures'.
Tang's comment marked an apparent departure from the government's line and was seen by pan-democrats as an attempt to win support from the powerful Heung Yee Kuk rural body.
The latest survey had a 66.1 per cent response rate and a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, with a 95 per cent confidence level.
Federation of Trade Unions president Cheng Yiu-tong said none of the federation's 60 Election Committee members would nominate either Tang or Leung at this stage and their stance would probably not change before nominations started on February 14.
'With their hard work, both of them should be able to win the [required] 150 nominations to enter the race,' Cheng said.
He was speaking after his federation's forum for Tang and Leung.
Cheng said they had yet to decide who to vote for in March 25 election and whether their 60 members would support the same candidate.