Hong Kong leader John Lee’s approval rating at record high

Veteran political commentator Chris Yeung said there has been more publicity in recent months about what Mr Lee has been doing and less negative news about his government.

Magdalene Fung

Magdalene Fung

The Straits Times


December 1, 2023

HONG KONG – Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee’s approval rating is at its highest since he took office 1½ years ago, a survey by the city’s main pollster has found.

Mr Lee received a vote of confidence from 57 per cent of respondents – the highest proportion since he took up the city’s top job in July 2022 – according to the latest findings from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute’s (HKPORI) monthly poll.

The poll, conducted from Nov 1 to 15 and released on Nov 21, surveyed 1,004 Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong residents aged at least 18, by phone. It had a 3 per cent margin of error.

Mr Lee received a vote of no confidence from 27 per cent of respondents – the lowest proportion since he became chief executive – and consequently had a net popularity rating of 30 percentage points, a record high for the leader, according to the research institute.

Among the respondents, 13 per cent gave him a zero mark.

The latest findings were an improvement compared with Mr Lee’s approval rating of 53 per cent a month earlier in October.

Survey respondents were posed the question: “If you had the right to decide whether to reappoint or dismiss John Lee as the Chief Executive now, how would you decide?” The response options were “reappoint”, “dismiss”, “abstain”, “don’t know / hard to say” or “refuse to answer”.

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Prior to July 2023, the question had been worded as “If a general election of the Chief Executive were to be held tomorrow, and you had the right to vote, would you vote for John Lee – yes or no?”.

HKPORI did not provide a reason for the revision, but it had in June said it would stop releasing its survey results on some sensitive topics such as views on China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown after receiving “suggestions” from government departments.

Mr Lee’s approval rating stood at 45 per cent when he first took the reins from his predecessor Carrie Lam in July 2022, following a small-circle election where he was the sole candidate in the running.

Hong Kong’s international borders were still shut and the city was under tight pandemic restrictions in line with Beijing’s Covid-Zero policy at that time, and the new leader had vowed to restore Hong Kong’s status as a global hub and tackle the city’s deep-seated housing and poverty issues.

Since then, Mr Lee has gone all out to revive Hong Kong’s struggling economy after the city finally stepped out of its Covid-19 shutdown earlier in 2023.

In recent months, Hong Kong has hosted a flurry of high-profile international events, from exhibitions and conferences in finance, law and tech to concerts and game conventions to attract more visitors from around the world.

The chief executive has also been trying to spur local consumption by promoting the city’s “night economy” with a campaign that encourages people to stay out later, as well as various other events including a winter festival in November and the Cyclothon in December.

To draw more talent and investment to Hong Kong following the brain drain of recent years, Mr Lee’s government is touting the city’s “headquarters economy” to persuade foreign firms to set up shop here and has, since the start of 2023, issued more than 100,000 new work visas to bring in more workers from abroad.

The leader is addressing Hong Kong’s housing shortfall over the next decade and beyond, speeding up the building of new homes and temporary public housing, as well as developing the Northern Metropolis economic powerhouse that will see several artificial islands created to house some 2.5 million people in the region.

He has also started to work towards improving conditions for the city’s subdivided flat-dwellers, and prioritised national security and patriotic education in his policies.

Veteran political commentator Chris Yeung said there has been more publicity in recent months about what Mr Lee has been doing and less negative news about his government.

“John Lee has not yet been able to impress people with charm, wisdom or competence. He is not likely to be a highly popular leader. On the other hand, he has not made any serious mistakes either, so he is also not likely to be a very unpopular leader,” Mr Yeung said.

Associate Professor Alfred Wu, from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, said he would take Mr Lee’s all-time-high approval rating with a pinch of salt.

“The socio-political conditions in today’s Hong Kong under John Lee are very different compared with those faced by the city’s other chief executives,” Prof Wu said.

“John Lee already has the best base in the polls as some 300,000 residents – likely those who would have disliked him and his government – have already left Hong Kong.”

Resident departures outnumbered arrivals by more than 291,000 in the first 7½ months of 2023, the highest level since Hong Kong’s Immigration Department began keeping records in January 2020, Bloomberg reported in August.

Mr Yeung, who is also a journalism lecturer, said the HKPORI survey did not draw much attention in local news as “there is still a strong feeling of political fatigue, helplessness and futility among those who support democracy, which I would say constitute half the population. This is the background against which we may look into these popularity figures”.

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