Young, educated and middle class: first field study of Hong Kong protesters reveals demographic trends

Sum Lok-kei

Almost 75 per cent of the protesters who have taken to the streets in Hong Kong in recent weeks have had some higher education and nearly 60 per cent are younger than 30 years old, a study has found.

The first field study to focus on the anti-government movement also found that 16 per cent of the protesters were involved in social activism for the first time.

The survey, which was made public on Monday, was conducted by three local scholars: Professor Francis Lee Lap-fung, director of Chinese University’s School of Journalism and Communication, Edmund Cheng Wai, an assistant professor at Baptist University, and Samson Yuen Wai-hei of Lingnan University.

The researchers studied 6,600 questionnaires handed out at 12 anti-extradition protests between June 9 and August 4.

The Hong Kong government has faced a crippling crisis since June as protests against a now-shelved extradition bill evolved into an escalating movement against the government and the police.

Lee said the government’s critics had several things in common: “Generally speaking, the protesters tend to be young and had received tertiary education.”

Generally speaking, the protesters tend to be young and had received tertiary education

Francis Lee, director of Chinese University’s School of Journalism and Communication

According to the survey, 57.7 per cent of the participants were age 29 or younger, while more than 26 per cent were between 20 and 24 years old – the biggest segment of the protest camp. Nearly 18 per cent of the protesters surveyed were 45 or older.

In terms of education, 73.8 per cent of the protesters said they had received at least some tertiary education, and most of the other protesters said they had attended secondary school.

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“Overall, more protesters saw themselves as belonging to the middle class,” said Lee, referring to 50.6 per cent of the participants who identified themselves that way.

On August 9, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor courted controversy after suggesting that a small portion of the protesters had “no stake in the society” because they had resorted to violence that greatly damage the economy.

Protestors in Tai Po on August 10. More than 16 per cent said the anti-extradition movement was their first time protesting. Photo: Sam Tsang

The survey showed that the anti-extradition movement was a mixture of newcomers and pro-democracy veterans from the Occupy movement.

Among the 6,688 surveyed, 16.6 per cent said the anti-extradition movement was their first time taking part in social movements. The study found that 60.5 per cent said they had taken part in the 2014 Occupy protests.

Cheng of Baptist University said it was unsurprising that people from Occupy were involved in the recent protests.

“The youth may have kept silent during [slow times] for social movement, but that doesn’t mean they turned to support the government,” Cheng said.

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Protesters were also asked about their political affiliations. Some 38 per cent identified as pan-democrats, 28.5 per cent said they were localists, and 6.9 per cent said they were radical democrats. Only 0.2 per cent identified as pro-establishment.

Of the protesters surveyed, 53.7 per cent were male and 46.3 per cent female.

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