MR Patten will be watching the latest opinion polls closely, to see what the people of Hong Kong think about his plan to table in Legco a Bill to implement phase one of his electoral reform plans. By going it alone, even on relatively uncontentious proposals, the Governor has provoked a stern response from Beijing, giving Hong Kong people an unsettling factor to take into account. The people's reaction is important to Mr Patten for, as he has admitted, he cannot move farther or faster than broad community opinion. The latest testing of people's thinking on democratic reform and Sino-British relations should cause some concern in Upper Albert Road. It suggests that the battle for the hearts and minds of the Hong Kong people has yet to be won by either side. Political opinion polls in Hong Kong are hard to interpret. They usually are based on a small number of interviews, giving them a measurably large margin of error. They thus provide a general guide to, rather than a precise reading of, public opinion. There is another complicating factor: many people will not express opinions on sensitive political questions. They are unable, or unwilling, to commit themselves. This means that clear support for any given proposition is usually in the minority. But, even on a conservative reading, there are aspects of yesterday's Sunday Morning Post poll which should give Mr Patten grounds for concern. The poll was conducted by Hong Kong Polling and Business Research, with a modest sample of 827 respondents. It found that only about a quarter of people believed that the Governor had put the territory's interests first in making last week's announcement that he would table legislation covering the ''simple'' issues in the Sino-British talks. About one-third thought he was primarily concerned with Britain's interests and about 10 per cent concluded he had put his own interests first. Some 28 per cent expressed no opinion. But the overall finding is something less than widespread appreciation of Mr Patten's motives. Other findings, however, should concern Beijing and Mr Patten. On the question of who should make concessions to keep the talks going, 37 per cent said China, 32 per cent said Britain and 31 expressed no opinion. As a general sounding of opinion, this means people are fairly evenly divided on the issue. Perhaps this reflects an element of cynicism, after almost eight months of talks. There is another suggestion of cynicism: about 60 per cent thought China's response to Mr Patten's announcement meant it would continue the talks. As pollster Citi Hung Ching-tin said, it seems that a year or so of hostilities, people take neither Chinese nor British statements at face value. Both Beijing and Mr Patten have work to do if they are to overcome the mixture of anxiety and cynicism detected by the poll. Neither side has won the battle for the backing of Hong Kong. But Beijing is an authoritarian government; Mr Patten is a Western liberal leader committed to a democratic process. Winning the battle is far more important to him and to his proposals than it is to Beijing.