Public confidence in the territory's political and economic outlook remains steady even as the future and present governments bicker away the last few months of British rule, according to a South China Morning Post survey. But a significant minority worries stability may be affected by the handover. In what is the last edition of the Post's quarterly economic and political confidence index before the change of sovereignty, sharp swings in public mood appear to have given way to calm. But the blandness of the overall picture does mask some divergence of opinion, with worries over stability and a sharp drop in the numbers who believe the economic environment will improve over the next 12 months. The majority of respondents also cited housing concerns as the top priority for the future Special Administrative Region government to handle. While 64 per cent put housing at the top of the list, only 23 per cent listed stabilisation of the economy first and just 12 per cent gave top priority to welfare for the elderly. The economic index, up 20 points between October 1995 and January this year, has remained steady at 93 points this quarter. The slightly less volatile political index fell by one statistically insignificant point this quarter to 94. It rose five points in the previous quarter. The feeling that Hong Kong is on course economically also seems to have been reflected in respondents' views on how the handover will affect stability and prosperity. More than half the respondents - 57 per cent - expected Hong Kong would be as prosperous as it was now and one-quarter believed it would be more prosperous. About half the respondents - 51 per cent - expected the territory to remain stable after June. But a significant 34 per cent worried that stability might be affected. Possibly driven to think about buying property by the 'continuous surge in housing prices', the report says, more respondents than in the previous survey indicated their intention to make major purchases in the next 12 months. The Survey Research Hongkong (SRH) major intention purchase index, which seems to bear little relation to the overall economic confidence index, surged this quarter from 84 to 91 points. The public's attitude towards the territory's future, the main question on which the political confidence index is based, remains relatively stable this quarter, with 78 per cent expressing some level of optimism, compared with 80 per cent in January. The survey, conducted for the Post and Ming Pao by SRH from April 7 to April 11, polled 1,075 respondents between the ages of 15 and 64. Government House spokesman Kerry McGlynn said it was 'for Chinese officials to provide the kind of reassurances that will remove the worries over stability'. 'I can't imagine the recent exercise on civil liberties will reduce these worries,' he said. He hoped the consultation on Chief Executive-designate Tung Chee-hwa's civil liberties proposals would come up with the right answers. 'I think many people understand that turning the screws on civil liberties often produces the opposite result from the one intended,' he said. A spokesman for Mr Tung's office said the character of the territory's people ensured its success. 'The entrepreneurship and hardworking spirit of our people will continue to be factors of our success as we become masters of our own house,' he said.