Fifty-nine per cent of Hongkongers oppose the Occupy Central campaign being planned by democracy activists, according to a survey, and about 58 per cent fear it might damage the economy.
Only 41 per cent supported it. But this 18 percentage point margin would narrow to 10 points if Beijing stepped up threats to deter people from joining the campaign. Just over half of respondents said they would still oppose the campaign in such a case.
Organisers of the so-called civil disobedience campaign are seeking to mobilise at least 10,000 protesters to block the streets of Central in the summer unless the government comes up with what they consider a true democratic system for the chief executive election in 2017.
The telephone survey was conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project, a research institute, from December 18 to 31. It asked 1,007 people about their views on the protest and the government's public consultation on political reforms.
Younger people tended to be more supportive of the campaign, with 59 per cent and 69 per cent of those in the 18-20 and 21-29 age groups respectively saying they would "strongly support" or "support" it. Only 39 per cent of those aged 50 to 59 and 60 to 69 supported the campaign. Some 184 respondents were under 30.
Pollster Professor Michael DeGolyer said the findings might pose a challenge to the Occupy Central organisers.
"Students or young people usually react emotionally. The organisers might find it difficult to control them," DeGolyer said.
A poll in October by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme found that only 25 per cent of respondents supported the campaign, while 55 per cent opposed it.
Beijing has been highly critical of the protest, fearing it could push Hong Kong into turmoil.
Without mentioning Occupy Central, Hong Kong-based mainland envoy Hao Tiechuan, publicity director of Beijing's liaison office, warned last week that Beijing could impose a "state of emergency" if it deemed the Hong Kong government had lost control and national unity or security was under threat.
On political reform, the survey found 33 per cent of people had trust in the consultation process; 21 per cent did not. About 47 per cent had no comment.