The Art and Artifice of Counting Crowds

Friday, September 03, 2010


From the Million Man March to the Obama Inauguration to Glenn Beck’s recent “Restoring Honor” rally, estimating the size of a crowd is both scientifically difficult and politically fraught. ASU professor Steve Doig, Washington Post editor Dan Keating and retired U.S. Park Police officer Carl Holmberg – crowd estimators all – weigh in.

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Comments [14]


Many of those people are just tourists. Any given weekend there is probably 30-50k tourists in DC. maybe more.

Sep. 15 2010 03:45 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I just love the idea of a Mormon and a Pentecostal heading up a rally to bring America back to God! Without a commitment to pluralism, let them take power and, before long, each will see the other as representing a cult and sectarianism will raise its hairy head here.

No matter the number in the park that day, they are merely sowing the seeds of their, the Republican Party's and the nation's division into competing camps.

Sep. 10 2010 02:42 AM

wanted to add that someone mentioned the hundred or so people in the porta potties at the time of the pictures. Well, they'd have to multiply that figure by at least 3 - 4, maybe 5 -- I've got the pictures. Without the people on the mall, the porta pottie numbers were impressive.

Sep. 09 2010 03:11 PM

I was one of those people that was in a "scary, moshpit" crowd. And it's funny the commentator said that if you fainted you wouldn't fall over, because that was my same thought. Only thing was, it wasn't the least bit scary. There were areas beyond the jumbotrons, down-pool, where the crowds were a little thinner because if you were close to a jumbotron behind you, that's where you wanted to move to, to see the program.

Personally, I can't imagine how anyone who has seen (or been at) a sold-out, professional soccer or football game can be satisfied to say that was an 80K-sized crowd. Just based on the area and being conservative about how much each area holds (including all the green space to the right of the area facing the Lincoln memorial -- past the Viet Nam memorial), I figure there had to be at least a million people there. It was pretty amazing. Now I can say I really have experienced shock and awe. Never been in or seen a crowd that size anywhere.

Sep. 09 2010 03:05 PM
Marceline from Cleveland

@Jim Louis: Your lack of recall doesn't mean there weren't any news stories. There were, in fact, plenty of stories and lots of debate about the numbers. It sounds like you simply weren't paying attention.

Sep. 07 2010 10:38 AM
Jim Louis from New York, NY

Funny, I don't recall any news story about crowd sizes when the Million Man March occurred or when any other liberal oriented group gathers. Apparently only when conservative groups gather does the crowd size become newsworthy. The bias and the prejudice of the liberal media knows no ends.

Sep. 06 2010 04:52 PM

On thing was left out of the story- It's easy to get a maximum crown estimate. An 'average' human requires a certain amount of space, about 2.5 sq ft, thus a football field (100'x300' = 30,000 sq ft) can only pack in maybe 12,000 people, and that doesn't account for pathways and access. So, assuming that the reflecting pool is 2000' long and the side grass is maybe 100' wide. That gives space for at most 160,000 people. One might be able to fit another 100,000 to the sides of the Memorial, but then it gets dicey. That that into account on the aerial photos and it becomes clear that 300,000 people is rather optimistic.

Sep. 05 2010 06:32 PM
Just a Thought

@Steve "maybe you forgot that the piece said legislation was passed in 1997 to stop the Park Service which puts it squarely during the Republican majorities with both houses of Congress!

Sounds like political compromise (because leftists don't like being contradicted with the facts like crowd size), something Republicans are never given credit for and now attacked when they do.
Hopefully Republicans will stand firm when they regain majority next year.

Sep. 04 2010 06:03 PM
Bob Potter from MA

So the outlier was correct. NPR was correct (though imprecise). Beck was off by a factor of at least 3. Bachmann was off by a factor of 100+. NBC, ABC both very wrong.

So much for liberal bias in the media. Conservative bias is more like it.

Sep. 04 2010 05:26 PM
Michael from Bangor Maine

I was there. I rode the Metro it was PACKED! Maybe check with the Metro to get a count on riders on Sat AM?

Sep. 04 2010 04:45 PM
Steve from Austin, TX

Hey "Just a Thought," maybe you forgot that the piece said legislation was passed in 1997 to stop the Park Service which puts it squarely during the Republican majorities with both houses of Congress! As a member of the Left/Liberal "Conspiracy," I have no problem with the numbers being lower than our expectations, not everybody can make the trip for many reasons.

Plus I've been to those areas of DC too. Much like Times Square and the Vegas Strip, the TV camera makes them look larger than they really are.

The 80,000 proves that Beck, Bachmann and Palin are just small-minded bullies making a killing on a bunch of dumb racists.

Sep. 04 2010 12:43 PM
Not a Chance

It appears Glen Beck was far right

... he's never been right.

Sep. 04 2010 11:39 AM
Not a Chance

It apperars Glen Beck was far right

... he's never been right.

Sep. 04 2010 11:37 AM
Just a Thought

It appears Glen Beck was right. Ignore the media because they have a political agenda but thanks for reminding us it was the Million Man March and left-wing events that stopped the Park Police from providing estimates to prevent politically motivated and dumb law suits. Thanks

Sep. 04 2010 07:51 AM

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