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How many people actually attended that big rally in Washington yesterday?

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 (NOTICE: As referenced in the comments thread on this post, the photo above is bogus, for which I apologize. It’s from an event of years ago. The photo below is legitimate)

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The subject reflected in the headline above, which arose this morning in a thread on another post here, deserves stand-alone treatment.

 One of our Applesauce regulars  introduced the issue with this comment:

Saturday’s “Tea Party” rally in Washington, D.C. far exceeded almost all expectations. Local police agencies estimated around 1.2 million people attended the rally, but several news outlets, including ABC and Fox News, said the crowd was nearly double that, with an estimated 2 million people in attendance.

 To which I replied as follows:

Regarding the size of the crowd, local police offered no estimate, nor did ABC say the crowd was in the millions.

ABC actually had this to say:

“Conservative activists, who organized a march on the U.S. Capitol today in protest of the Obama administration’s health care agenda and government spending, erroneously attributed reports on the size of the crowds to ABC News.

“Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally that ABC News was reporting that 1 million to 1.5 million people were in attendance.

“At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, D.C., fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’

“Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.

“As a result of Kibbe’s erroneous attribution, several bloggers and commenters repeated the misinformation.”

Personally, I’ve noticed over the years that protest organizers of both the left and right have been wont to wildly overestimate their turnouts. I attended several protest rallies in Washington in the ’60s and ’70s, and the sponsoring organizations invariably made unrealistic claims about the size of the crowds.

My favorite story in this regard has nothing to do with political protests. It involved one of Pope John Paul II’s tours of America, during which he celebrated outdoor masses in various big cities — including New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, as I recall. Crowd estimates were progressively larger in each succeeding city, and topped a million in Chicago’s Grant Park. But somebody used aerial photos and scientifically drawn grids to prove that the Chicago crowd actually was less than 100,000.

In the end, the only reliable crowd figures are those for events at which the number of seats filled or the number of tickets sold are fairly precise.

 And now, the always-credible Nate Silver CHIMES IN with his own observations on the matter.

 An excerpt:

[I]f there had in fact been 2 million protesters in Washington yesterday, there would have been no need to lie about it — the magnitude of the protests would have been self-evident. I was in Washington for the inauguration, an event at which there really were almost 2 million people present — and let me tell you, it was a Holy Mess. Hotels, charging double or treble their usual rates, were booked weeks in advance. Major stations on the Metro system were shut down for hours at a time. The National Guard was brought in. At least 3,000 people got stuck in a tunnel. Essentially the entirely of the National Mall, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, was dotted with onlookers. Heaps of trash were left behind. The entire city was basically a warzone for a period of about 20 hours, from midnight through mid-evening.

But there are no accounts of any of those sorts of things happening yesterday. 70 thousand people, rather, is about the number that will attend the Washington Redskins’ home opener next week. That’s a lot of people. Washington — actually Landover, Maryland, where FedEx Field is located — will be inconvenienced. But it won’t be shut down. Business will go on more or less as usual.

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14 Comments

  1. Hey, At least ABC mentioned the fact that there even was a ‘Tea Bagg’in protest.

    If my memory hasn’t completely failed me, during the Bush
    ” I’m a war time President ” Regime,

    Several million Worldwide came out in protest against Bush’s war in Iraq.
    I know many locally DID attend those D.C Protest, Yet not a peep nor a pic from anyone here in the local area about this ‘Tea Bag”, meeting. Why is that ?

    Did ABC even mention the Anti-War protest ?

    I doubt it

  2. Orlando Clay

    It seems that some of our friends on the right must have studied at the Jethro D. Bodine School of Mathematics at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. When not busy bashing gays and other assorted minorities, they somehow found time to develop a revolutionary new system of mathematics in which 10,000 = 1,000,000 and 20,000 = 2,000,000.

    Those Cons…..so consistently “ahead of the curve”…..NOT!

  3. Billybeermonicagar

    “I was in Washington for the inauguration, an event at which there really were almost 2 million people present — and let me tell you, it was a Holy Mess. Major stations on the Metro system were shut down for hours at a time. The National Guard was brought in. At least 3,000 people got stuck in a tunnel. Heaps of trash were left behind. The entire city was basically a warzone for a period of about 20 hours, from midnight through mid-evening.” What the hell kind of people were in town for the inauguration? The NationalGaurd was called, people in a tunnel that could not figure their way out, heaps of trash left behind, looked like a war zone. Must have been a bunch of people that graduated cum laude from a major university.

  4. Orlando: I loved your line about “the Jethro D. Bodine School of Mathematics.” But your reference to “Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University” should have read: “Jerry Falwell’s Clown College.”

  5. shawnnews

    Much like Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March people will debate just how many people turned up for awhile.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Man_March

  6. mike: Are you actually so dim-witted as to think that Pat Cassidy’s opinion in this matter is somehow authoritative? The only official crowd estimate came from the D.C. Fire Department, and they put that number at 60,000 or 70,000.

  7. Which would put it at about 45,000 to 55,000 more than went to Minnesota to see Obama.

  8. You think the above picture was from the 9-12 rally? If you do your stupid that was from the Promise Keeperes Rally, I doubt if there was any shadows Saturdayday since it was cloudy and rainy nice try though!

  9. Brad: That photo was, in fact, taken at Saturday’s rally. As one of the Web sites supportive of the rally put it:

    “The weather the day before had been crummy, and so we worried that it would carry over to the big day. Fortunately, although it was overcast, the air was quite balmy and a nice breeze kept it from getting too hot, even when the sun emerged later. The nice weather may have contributed to the success of the event – no one likes to march in the rain.”

    That Web site is here (where, if you’ll scroll down to the second photo, you’ll see sunshine and shadows):
    http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/id.4253/pub_detail.asp

    You say it was “cloudy and rainy,” but among the scores of photos of the event I’ve seen, I haven’t noticed even one umbrella.

    In other words, Brad, you’re full of it.

  10. WAIT A MINUTE: I owe Brad an apology. Upon further investigation, I’ve determined that Brad is correct about the source of the photo at the top of this post. It was NOT taken at Saturday’s rally. Rather, as Brad notes, it was taken at a Promise Keepers rally some years ago.

    But I still stand by my refutation of Brad’s contention that it was rainy in Washington on Saturday.

  11. Craig Knauss

    The Teetbaggers had a pile of people there, but it wasn’t anywhere near 2 million. Probably not even half that. The National Mall couldn’t hold 2 million people because there isn’t enough space for them to stand. Our local tea party had a few hundred characters present, but I’m sure they will claim a couple thousand like they did last time. They always claim about 4x as many as really show up.

  12. Craig Knauss

    First, the U of I isn’t liberal, except when compared to the fringe right. The majority of students there are middle class, working people who value education. If that makes them “liberal” then I guess you are certainly conservative.
    Second, I can’t find much U of I involvement except for references to ONE faculty member. That’s one out of about 2000. And he was only referenced on the f******** moron sites, like Hannity.
    Third, The National Mall, (now see if you can follow the arithmetic, mike) which is bounded on the west by 15th St NW and the east by 3rd St SW, and two string of buildings, is about 4600 ft long x 200 ft wide, which makes it 920,000 sq ft. And assuming a 2 ft x 2 ft space for each person (that’s 4 sq ft, mike, which is actually rather small), that means about 230,000 people can jam in there. Even if it is doubled, for a conservative estimate, it is nowhere near 2,000,000 people. That’s why the police dept., fire dept., transit authority, etc. all estimated between 50,000 and 90,000 people. And the second picture that Pat posted supported that. I may not be an authority on counting heads in a picture, but I can estimate real estate, which obviously YOU cannot do.

  13. Good morning. First, I was at a March on Washington in the 70’s. We had approximately 100,000 there. It was full!

    I was there again in the late 90’s – not for a protest, but simply to celebrate the Foruth of July. They estimated 50,000 for the fireworks. Again, it looked pretty full.

    As far as the mess that is being blamed on each side – at the Fourth of July celebration – which was on a Saturday – the city looked like it had been looted! A complete disaster – cups, papers, food, etc., etc. just thrown everywhere. Completely Bi-Partisan!!

    Sorry folks – 1.2M, 1.7M, 2.0M – different numbers I’ve been hearing – would not fit or be able to congregate in Washington without months and months of preparation.

    And honestly, who really cares how many people were there???? Why is that important??? In the grand scheme of things – we have 300 million citizens in the U.S. Whether 70,000 thousand or 2 million showed up, it certainly was NOT the majority by any stretch of the imagination! If 2 million were there – then 298 million were not! Out of that 298 million, probably 290 million of them didn’t even hear about it!

    It was just a bunch of people, getting on the band wagon, who do not like President Obama. If it really were about Healthcare Reform you wouldn’t have seen signs that read things like “Bury him with Kennedy”.

    If this country doesn’t find a way to unite within themselves, we will be useless as a nation!

  14. larry mondello

    The photo of those people in front of the capitol is missing one thing: The American Indian Museum. It should be on the right, but its not there. This photo is of event that must have happened at least five years ago. Why the dishonesty?

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