Chief Executive Donald Tsang and Civic Party leader Audrey Eu debated constitutional reform last night. Right at the start the Chief Executive showed how misinformed he was by citing the Director of this research project as a member of the Civic Party. I am glad he is, at least, reading some of the reports. But I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Civic Party. Further, the Civic Party has NEVER commissioned the Hong Kong Transition Project to conduct surveys for it. And even further, I have debated the Civic Party in public over some of its policies and, for example, disagreed very publicly, in no uncertain terms, about its plan to hold a by-election "referendum" by having some of its members resign alongside the LSD (League of Social Democrats). While it is true that one of the members of the research project, Dr. Kenneth Chan Ka-Lok is a member of the Civic Party, he is barred from participating in the drafting of the questionnaire and of the report of any survey even if commissioned by other NGOs which in any way concerns the Civic Party or policies advocated or criticized by the Civic Party. The Hong Kong Transition Project is an independent project funded by a mix of non-governmental organizations, academic research grants, and commissioned research on policies not related to political development, such as environmental issues.
The debate referred several times to public opinion and also involved the two participants sparring over poll results. On the one hand, government polls supposedly show a majority, indeed as high as 60 percent of Hong Kong residents in favor of the reform package proposed by the government. On the other hand, public opinion surveys by Hong Kong University, Lingnan University, the Liberal Party and Hong Kong Transition Project all show less than half support the reform package. The range among the surveys is 45-49 percent in favor, and all the surveys except the government's pretty well fall within this range which is within the expected range of error of random sample public opinion polls of the size conducted. The government's survey of about the same number of respondents (about 1,000) show, supposedly, 60 percent in favor. However, unlike the surveys by all others, we do not know the government's sample frame, its questions, its introductory statements or even its methodology. These are all secrets within the government.
If Donald Tsang wants us to believe him that 60 percent support him, we need to see these details of his surveys. It would also be very good to find out from his survey director why the government surveys get results so different from everyone else. A source of error could very well be that when the government runs its surveys, it introduces them with a statement along the lines of "hello, I'm calling for the Hong Kong Government to find out your opinion." Of course anyone would realize the callers have their number and can easily find out their address and even name from it. So would you, knowing this, tell the government you strongly disagree with their proposal or would you say don't know or agree just to be safe? If the government wants credibility, it needs to be more transparent. And regarding transparency, you can download the briefings yourself that the Chief Executive and Audrey Eu. Just go to the download page and check out the latest surveys. They are there to inform members of the public about what a random sample of their fellow citizens thinks. The latest report: "To the Brink?" reveals some very troubling trends and developments.