My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 4:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 6:33am

So what is Occupy's poll really saying?


Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.

One of our headlines yesterday read: "The people have spoken". But what exactly is the message?

That refers to the 787,767 votes cast in Occupy Central's mock referendum. The exercise has achieved a phenomenal level of participation. But does it make sense to interpret it as a de facto referendum? In a real referendum, there would have been other voting options besides the three offered, all of which featured public nomination of chief executive candidates.

The pan-democrats have condemned Beijing and the Hong Kong government for refusing to consider public nomination. Occupy Central offered a "referendum" with no alternatives. So, minus the 8.9 per cent who abstained, can we take it that more than 700,000 voters support public nomination? And could they be considered representative of the city's 3.5 million electors?

The answer is certainly no to both questions, because they were offered no other choices. First, we can't assume Occupy voters would show the same preferences in a real referendum. Second, the demographics of the voters would be interesting to study. It's possible the Occupy exercise attracted disproportionately younger voters whereas in a real poll you would have a more even age distribution with other voting preferences.

But regardless, the more than 700,000 Occupy voters are a self-selecting group that on average, would certainly take a more confrontational stance than the rest of the electorate. This could explain why an overwhelming 88 per cent of Occupy voters say lawmakers should veto any reform package that does not meet international standards by pre-screening candidates. This result contradicts two random-sample surveys conducted by Hong Kong University and Lingnan University in June, both of which found more than one in two Hongkongers want "one person one vote" even if there is pre-screening.

Occupy organisers said Beijing's white paper and the fight in Legco over funding for northeast New Territories new towns helped prompt the high turnout. So they tacitly agree the votes are not necessarily an endorsement of Occupy Central or pubic nomination, but a massive display of public anger and discontent - no different from a high turnout for the June 4 vigil and July 1 march.