Recent graft scandals and ethical controversies involving some of the city's most powerful officials and property tycoons appear to have helped drive the University of Hong Kong's corruption index to a 10-year low.
Its twice-yearly survey measuring key social indicators found that perceptions of how corruption-free the city is sank to 6.64 on a 10-point scale - down 0.73 points, or 10 per cent, from six months ago.
The poll of 1,040 Hongkongers also showed respondents believe the city has placed more restrictions on artistic and literary creativity - for which the score was down 0.19 points to a post-handover record low of 7.46 points.
On the other hand, respondents on average gave the rule of law a record-high rating of 7.26 points. This is one of five core social values measured by the survey, in addition to freedom, stability, prosperity and democracy.
Of the five, democracy was seen as the weakest, with a score of 6.38. Freedom continued to be perceived as the strongest, with a score of 7.43, although researchers discovered the decline in creative freedom when they drilled down deeper.
"People generally consider Hong Kong a free society," said Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, head of the university's public opinion programme. "[But it] warrants attention [that perceptions of] the freedom to engage in artistic and literary creation has dropped to a record low since 1998."
Chung did not speculate about why respondents saw the city as less free of corruption now.
However, the drop follows several damaging scandals and revelations about top government officials and business figures.