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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Finally, there’s a solid, empirically grounded comparison of the size of the Glen Beck rally and the Obama inauguration – Are you ready? The Beck Rally was only 11% of the size of the inauguration.

A couple of days ago I noted that CBS was the only news company that went to the trouble of hiring a professional aerial photo analysis company to estimate the size of the Beckapallosa last weekend and that the estimate CBS received was that only 87,000 people (plus or minus 9,000) had actually attended.
Even ignoring the estimates of the Beck rally’s own organizers and participants, (which were based upon a combination of divine revelation and a handy, unlimited supply of zeros) 87,000 did seem a awfully low number just based on eyeballing the main long distance crowd photos in the press and comparing them with previous demonstrations. But, on the other hand, the photo company’s methodology was the absolutely accepted standard for doing this kind of estimation and several different specialists used the aerial photos to provide independent estimates which were then consolidated into the final figure. I speculated that the explanation might lie in how densely packed the crowd was, which could not be judged in long distance photos, but without additional background information from the photo analysis company the discussion was at a dead end.
Well, the company has now released more information about the estimating procedure – including 400 aerial photos – and it appears that the 87,000 number is indeed very solidly grounded. You can read the details here but the bottom line is that the analysis followed the accepted procedures for this kind of analysis and the company has made their raw data public. From a scientific standpoint, their work is on solid ground.
But the really fascinating fact in the new information is this: this same company was used to estimate the number of people who attended the Obama inauguration. Their estimate at the time — 800,000 — was attacked by many Obama-boosters as far too low but was embraced by the right as the scientific gold standard.
And here’s the critical thing. The company used precisely – precisely — the same methodology to estimate the size of the Beck rally that they used to estimate the size of the inaugural crowd. So even if one wants to question the exact accuracy or precision of their photo analysis methods, they will still produce an extremely good relative comparison between the attendance at the two events.
So, as the saying goes, “just do the math”. The Glen Beck rally, whatever its exact absolute size, turns out to have been just 11% of the size of the inaugural crowd.
It is obviously a pointless task to try and argue about this with the Beck-o-philes themselves. They will undoubtedly discover the dark hand of ACORN, SIEU “thugs”, nuns overly influenced by John Paul II and probably Woodrow Wilson and Mahatma Gandhi in intimidating the photo analysis company into distorting its data.
But a solid, empirically based estimate of the attendance at the rally is indeed important for Democrats because it provides a measure of the organizational and mobilization capabilities of the FOX news/Freedomworks/Americans for Prosperity conservative machine. The 87,000 people they bussed in or provided parking arrangements for at last weeks’ rally was actually very close in size to the attendance at the 9/12 rally last year. It suggests that, despite an entire year of continual and increasingly monstrous progressive outrages against the very fabric of human decency and civilized life, their ability to mobilize their base has not dramatically grown.
Except, of course, in one place – in the lyrical expanses of conservative press releases, where the mundane constraints of empirical data are effortlessly transcended by the miracles of faith-based crowd estimation – the delightful realm where, as in Neverland, Oz and old Disney flicks, “just wishing makes it so”.

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