Public confidence in the "one country, two systems" principle has dipped to a net level of "zero" - the lowest point since 1996 - a University of Hong Kong poll found.
Based on interviews with 1,055 people from June 10 to 13, pollsters found 47 percent expressed confidence in the concept that gives Hong Kong autonomy from the mainland, while 47 percent had no confidence.
"The net value of people's confidence in `one country, two systems' is no longer positive for the first time since August 1996 - now at zero," said the respected HKU Public Opinion Programme.
In August 1996 - less than a year before the handover - the level was minus 4 percent. The record low was minus 14.9 percent in June 1994.
The atmosphere in 1994 was highly charged, with Beijing critical of political reforms initiated by governor Chris Patten. In 1996, the territory's provisional legislature was set up.
Veteran political analyst James Sung Lap- kung, of City University, said while there is a lack of statistics about Hongkongers moving elsewhere, he is aware of more talk about emigration in society in recent years.
"Some people are dissatisfied with the polarized political environment, and they are worried that Hong Kong's robust economic development may not last long," Sung said.
"There was a wave of emigration among Hong Kong people before the 1997 handover and citizens generally thought that the political development and economic prospects in Hong Kong would be dim at that time.
"In recent years, there has been more talk on emigration in society again.
"Indeed, some people are dissatisfied with the polarized political environment, and they think that the prospect of economic development might not last for a long time and therefore they think about emigration again."
The latest survey also found 37 percent of respondents distrust the government - a new high since December 2003 - while 32 percent trust it. Further, 45 percent distrust the central government - a new high since December 1997 - while 25 percent trust it.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said last night the government is willing to conduct more publicity on the Basic Law if people think there are problems with "one country, two systems."