One in three people in Hong Kong, and half of the city's young people, would emigrate if they had the chance, according to a recent public opinion survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
With overall ratings for quality of life showing a "statistically significant" fall from last year, to 62.1 out of a possible 100 points, many appear to be thinking seriously about leaving.
Thirty-four percent of respondents said they would go and live somewhere else, with more than 16 percent saying they have already begun making preparations to do so, the poll, conducted by the university's Institute of Asia Pacific Studies last month, found.
However, the percentage of those hoping to leave the city rose to 51 percent in the 18-30 age group, compared with just over 21 percent among the over-50s.
And 47.9 percent of respondents with a college degree or higher said they would like to live somewhere else, the poll found.
Some 25 percent of respondents cited growing political and social tensions as a key factor prompting their desire to leave the city, while 17.4 percent said they were "dissatisfied with the political institutions."
Nearly 19 percent indicated a preference for Canada as a destination, while 18 percent said they would like to live in Australia.
The democratic island of Taiwan is also emerging as a favored destination for Hong Kong residents, with eleven percent saying they would like to move there.
More than one-third of those hoping to emigrate were looking for more living space, while around 22 percent hoped for better air quality and less pollution.
Just over 15 percent said they were in search of "more liberty and better ... human rights," the poll found.
Andrew Shum, a member of the Hong Kong NGO Civil Rights Observer, said part of people's disillusionment with the city was sparked by the government's failure to allow fully democratic elections.
"People's demand for universal suffrage has yet to be realized," Shum said. "We had thought we were going to get a basic system that respected the choice of citizens through free and fair elections."
"Now, that hope has gradually collapsed," he said. "I think that has left a lot of people feeling gloomy and powerless."
The 79-day Occupy Central protests calling for universal suffrage grew out of a week-long student strike following an Aug. 31, 2014 ruling from China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee insisting on the vetting of electoral candidates if universal suffrage was to go ahead.
The ruling was also rejected by pan-democratic lawmakers as "fake universal suffrage."
In June 2014, an unofficial referendum saw 400,000 people vote in favor of universal suffrage and unrestricted nominations, in spite of a central government white paper spelling out that the city's autonomy was still subject to the will of Beijing, and didn't constitute full autonomy or decentralized power.
An activist with the Hong Kong Land Justice League who gave only a nickname A Kuen said a worsening political situation should encourage people to stay and fight for their values, however.
"We should stand our ground, not turn into fawning dogs," A Kuen said. "We want to stay in Hong Kong to carry on the struggle, and to fight for the core values, freedom and a just society that were always ours in the first place."
"We want to fight for a Hong Kong that has room to develop further," he said.
Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms of press, publication and association, as well as a separate and independent judiciary, under the terms of its 1997 return to Chinese rule, within the "one country, two systems" framework agreed between British and Chinese officials and enshrined in its miniconstitution, the Basic Law.
But the city's freedom and autonomy are now being eroded in the wake of repeated interventions in the city’s political life by Beijing, according to overseas governments and human rights organizations.
The cross-border detentions of five Hong Kong booksellers, and the debarring of pro-democracy election hopefuls, as well as the firing of six directly elected opposition lawmakers after Beijing intervened to rule their oaths of allegiance invalid, have also thrown up doubts about the city's judicial independence.
However, many survey respondents cited the convenience of living in Hong Kong, in a Chinese-speaking society with "good infrastructure and institutions" as reasons to stay put, the study found.
"Compared with the survey results of last year, the top push and pull factors have not changed," the Institute said in a statement on its website.
Of the 708 people interviewed, just 6.7 percent had the right of abode in a foreign country, while nearly one-third said they had family members or relatives living abroad.
Reported by Pan Jiaqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.