More Hongkongers support the upholding of social order than democratic empowerment or the protection of free speech, a survey found.
The results of the Hong Kong Institute of Education poll were released as the head of Beijing's local liaison office was quoted as saying that the Occupy Central movement - the plan by democracy advocates for a mass demonstration next year - would "destroy law and order".
In the poll, conducted in March, nearly half the 1,032 respondents said maintaining order came ahead of giving people more say in key political decisions, against a third who said otherwise.
Forty-six per cent opted for maintaining order over protecting freedom of speech, while 41 per cent held an opposite view.
The margin for error of the survey results was plus or minus 3.1 per cent.
The pollster, Professor Chou Kee-lee, associate head of the institute's department of Asian and policy studies, said the results served as a reminder to the Occupy Central strategists. "One way to explain this is that Hongkongers have never had a true taste of democracy, while freedom of speech is what they are currently enjoying," he said.
University of Hong Kong legal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an Occupy Central organiser, believed there remained much room to elaborate on the spirit of the movement.
His ally, Professor Chan Kin-man of Chinese University's department of sociology, said they were working for both democracy and stability in one go.
"Without democracy, society can hardly enjoy stability," he said.
In the poll, most of the firm believers in democracy were younger males and worked full-time. Those with a higher education level were less likely to give priority to social stability.
Chou said Hong Kong's freedom of speech, together with other core values, stemmed originally from the British authorities and were democratic in nature.
"Few [of the respondents] were aware that democracy was indeed the foundation of all these rights and freedoms," he said.
The remarks by liaison office director Zhang Xiaoming on Occupy Central were quoted by members of the New People's Party who met him yesterday.
Party chairwoman and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said Zhang told them the movement "would destroy law and order and be tantamount to publicly asking people to break the law".