Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nate Silver Analyzes Tea Bag Attendance

Here is numbers guy, Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com, doing what he does best, Numbers. Today, he's reviewing the projected attendance figures from yesterday's tea bag fests.

After running down figures from a number of cites that actually reported, he offered the following:

Are these figures impressive? I'd say they're reasonably impressive. Then again, 111,899 isn't much more than the number who attend a typical University of Michigan football game or who attended a single Barack Obama rally in Portland, Oregon last year.

But, the list is far from complete. This covers 126 rallies, whereas the most common figure I've seen is that there were about 750 such protests nationwide -- about six times more than we've accounted for.

So, can we simply multiply the estimate by six to estimate the overall number of attendees across the country, which would imply that about 670,000 tea-baggers?

That strikes me as pretty bad idea, because there is a statistical bias in which rallies are reported upon -- more successful rallies in larger areas are liable to draw more reporters, and thereby show up in news feeds, etc. Although there are a few large rallies (Atlanta, for example) where there aren't yet hard numbers to account for, I'd imagine that most of the "missing" protests in the long tail drew relatively small numbers -- 20, 50, 100, 200 people. My hunch is that the overall attendance figure nationwide is probably something like 250,000, but that's just a guess.

The other weird thing about these numbers is how little correlation there seems to be between the size of the rally and the size of that city's population -- the Olympia, Washington event drew about 20 times more people than Philadelphia's; twice as many showed up in Baxter, Arkansas as in Boston. These rallies appear to be drawing disproportionately from rural areas, which is one reason why, although the cumulative attendance figure is impressive, there doesn't appear to have been any one single place where the protesters gathered (say) 15,000 people together.

I think that while it’s interesting, it’s not surprising that rural areas bested some some major cities.  I also think about the high total he gives of 670,000 nation wide.  Compare that to inauguration day, where it was estimated that over 1 million showed up, in one place at the same time.

I’m sure it depends on who you talk to.  For those that were there, it was probably the best time they’ve had in years.  Me, well, I’ve had plenty of good times and will have plenty more.  Therefore, I am not impressed.

1 comment:

  1. Good to get some reasonable information on the numbers. Yesterday Fox was saying 3,000 were at the Washington rally while CNN was saying "several hundred at most" I wasn't buying either estimate.....thanks for this.

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