Hongkongers have grown even more pessimistic about the city's future after fewer than three months under Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's leadership than they were in the aftermath of a 500,000-strong protest that rocked the city in 2003.
University of Hong Kong public opinion poll findings released yesterday also showed some 40 per cent of respondents expressed distrust towards Beijing authorities - the highest level since the end of British rule in 1997. Meanwhile, more people said they did not trust the local government than those who did.
Observers said these were indications that it would be dangerous for the chief executive to initiate changes that would be seen as "political missions" to please Beijing during a high tide of "mainland phobia".
Of 1,036 respondents polled between last Tuesday and Friday, 49.7 per cent expressed confidence in Hong Kong's future, compared with 37.7 per cent who said otherwise.
The no-confidence level was the highest since August 2003 after the mass protest spawned by opposition to a planned national security law.
This result was coupled with 34.6 per cent who answered "no" when asked if they had trust in local government, compared with 34.1 per cent who said "yes". Another 29 per cent were "50/50".
The trust level, HKU said, had fallen to its lowest since April 2004, while trust in Beijing was at a 15-year low. The distrust percentage was down slightly from the March level found two weeks ahead of the once-in-five-years' chief executive election.
Chinese University associate political professor Ma Ngok attributed the low trust level toward Beijing to a feeling of "mainland phobia".
Ma said Hongkongers worried that their core values could be affected and there was disappointment that expected political and social reforms had not occurred on the mainland.
Vivid anti-communist slogans used by pan-democrats during electioneering for the September 9 Legislative Council poll also strengthened locals' distrust of the mainland government, Ma said.
However, the election results showed that the camp could not secure as many seats as predicted despite a high percentage of votes gained. Ma said this might have led to declining optimism about the future among some supporters.
Political commentator Dr James Sung Lap-kung, of the City University's School of Continuing and Professional Education, said the trend reflected society's general dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the national education debate, which saw a week-long rally outside the government headquarters.
Resistance was also seen among locals in further integration with the mainland, Sung said, including the recent issues of parallel goods traders and the Northeast New Territories' development plan.
Sung said that if Leung focused on livelihood issues and steered clear of hot "political missions", such as reforming RTHK, "his rating should go up a bit". To do otherwise would be unwise, if not disastrous, he said.
Pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu did not comment on the findings. But he cited other factors that would potentially have affected the ratings. These included the suspicious death of blind Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang in Hunan , as well as the Sino-Japanese row over the Diaoyus.
Secretary for the Civil Service Paul Tang Kwok-wai conceded that the new government's low popularity was mainly a result of several controversial issues, such as the introduction of national education. Tang called on people to give the government more time to demonstrate its effectiveness, noting that civil servants' morale was "not bad".