How many people really attended Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in DC?
80,000 or 1,000,000, who got it right?
Ever since Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally at the national mall in Washington D.C., people have been arguing over how many people were in attendance. Crowd size is often distorted after rallies to make the movement appear bigger or smaller than it really is. I think it's time we take a look at the facts and see if we can determine just how many people were at the Tea Party-related event.
Crowd size: the low estimate
The controversy was originally sparked when CBS News hired Airphotoslive.com to estimate the size of the crowd using their aerial photographs. Airphotoslive did this using accepted methods for counting large crowds, and came up with 87,000, give or take about 9,000. MSNBC and the Associated Press also reported that the crowd was in the "tens of thousands". The Parks Service does not divulge official crowd estimates anymore after they were sued for claiming a low number for the Million Man March over a decade ago.
Crowd size: the high estimate
On the other side of the dial were the high estimates for the Restoring Honor crowd. Glenn Beck claimed the crowd was at least 300,000 and perhaps as high as 650,000. That's an unusually wide range for such an estimate and probably not based on any scientific methods, but those are the numbers he used. The New York Post, which is owned by the same company that owns Fox News, which pays Beck's salary, reported 300,000 in attendance. The Wall Street Journal, also owned by the same company (News Corp), repeated that number.
A wildly high estimate came from Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who proclaimed "we're not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here." What's really odd about this is even the conservative media outlets aren't claiming anywhere close to one million. Bachmann was given the chance to retract her estimate on the Laura Ingraham show, and she did the respectable thing and INCREASED her estimate to 1.6 MILLION! I'm not sure where she came up with the extra 600,000, but I have a feeling it was an effort to make Beck's rally twice as big as Obama's inauguration, which got a conservative estimate of 800,000 people. Bachmann is such a savvy propagandist in another life she could have been friends with Stalin.
Let's ask the smart people
Professor Steve Doig could be considered the expert in estimating crowd size. He was the darling of the conservative media back in 2009 when he estimated the Obama inauguration crowd size at just 800,000, far less than the 1 to 1.5 million other media outlets were reporting.
Professor Doig used his method of analyzing photos to estimate crowd size on the Restoring Honor rally and came up with a number of about 80,000, which was within the margin of error of the estimate by AirPhotosLive. Doig noted that there were big patches of open green grass on the hill surrounding the Washington Monument, and many picnic blankets set up in areas where it would have been standing room only at larger rallies on the mall. This was not a "pack em in like sardines" kind of rally; it was more like a picnic in the park with tens of thousands of like-minded people.
Beyond the estimates
On the final Saturday in August on a beautiful day we should expect to see an increased number of people in the D.C. area. People are coming back to school, coming back to government internships, etc. Many people are enjoying one last weekend of freedom before going back to the grind.
The only cold hard numbers we have from last Saturday are from the D.C. Metro. The Metro had an increase of about 180,000 riders compared to other Saturdays in August. At least some (but certainly not all) of that can be attributed to the rally on the mall. A large fraction of that would have been the normal end of summer increase, some of it would have been people who ride away from the National Mall area during big rallies to avoid hassles, and some of that would have been people using the Metro to get to the rally. Given the demographic of most attendees (older people from more rural areas that don't have metro service), I think it's safe to assume the majority came via organized bus trips.
My best guess
Based on the evidence I have already discussed, I would guess the crowd size for Glenn Beck's rally to be between 90,000 and 150,000 people.