Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Housing Boom and the Rise of Localism in Hong Kong: Evidence from the Legislative Council Election in 2016

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The Housing Boom and the Rise of Localism in Hong Kong: Evidence from the Legislative Council Election in 2016

Article excerpt

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Localism is on the rise in Hong Kong, as attested by the proliferation of self-proclaimed localist political parties and their rising electoral support in recent elections. What has caused the rise of localism? Extant studies focus predominantly on cultural explanations, such as generational politics (Wong, Zheng, and Wan 2017), Hong Kong identity and anti-China sentiment (Ma 2011, 2017; Veg 2017; Kaeding 2017), or societal approaches (So 2017).

In this article, we argue that in addition to cultural and social factors, there is an economic origin that contributes to the political ascendancy of the localist parties: homeownership. The inexorable rise of asset prices in Hong Kong, due to both regional and global factors, is associated with impactful redistributive consequences; asset-holders continue to benefit, while those without any assets are lagging farther and farther behind with respect to wealth distribution. This wealth inequality further translates into divergent preferences over the socio-economic status quo: asset-holders are anxious to preserve it, whereas non-asset holders are willing to challenge it. Our argument yields distinct, testable hypotheses for voting behaviour. Using newly available election study data, we find strong support for our argument. In particular, we find that homeownership is a significant predictor of political identification and vote choice in the 2016 Legislative Council election. In particular, homeowners are less likely to identify with localists and more likely to vote for pro-establishment parties.

The rest of the article is divided into the following sections. In the first part, we discuss the rise of localism in Hong Kong in recent years and some dominant explanations for this phenomenon. We then present our argument. In the next section, we present the hypotheses, followed by a discussion of the data and operationalisation in the fourth section. Finally, we present the results of the empirical analysis. We then make concluding remarks.

The rise of localism in Hong Kong

The meanings of localism or the localist camp have changed over time since Hong Kong's sovereignty transfer in 1997. We can broadly divide the term localism into two sub-categories, namely left-wing localism and rightwing localism.

The changing face of localism in Hong Kong

In the first decade after the sovereignty transfer, the term localism was often associated with the construction of a local cultural identity. Hong Kong witnessed several large-scale social movements of heritage conservation such as the Preserving Lee Tung Street Movement in 2004 and the Star Ferry and Queen's Pier Movement in 2006. The activists involved in these movements were usually identified as "left-wing localists" (Veg 2017; Kaeding 2017), because unlike social activists of the previous generations, who had a keen interest in the social and political development of mainland China, these activists focused almost exclusively on local economic problems, including income inequality and "real-estate hegemony" (Wong 2015a).(1) Ku (2012) points out that local activists were shifting their action framework from global interests to everyday life, rethinking how to balance life space and developmentalism. These movements have arguably inspired a new wave of social activism in Hong Kong's young generations (Ku 2012).

Left-wing localism was gradually eclipsed by right-wing localism in the second decade after the sovereignty transfer. Many advocacy groups can be subsumed under the umbrella term right-wing localism; even though their core ideas are not necessarily compatible or coherent, the overtones of these groups are distinctly more inward-looking than left-wing localism. At times, they even appeal to people's anti-immigrant and anti-mainland sentiments. In particular, right-wing localists often emphasise that Hong Kong has its own political system,(2) culture, and institutions that should be kept unmolested by the negative influences of mainland Chinese. …

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