Nate Silver’s “The Geography of Occupation” should erase any doubt that the Occupy Wall St. protests are a nation-wide phenomenon which may yet surpass the tea party in size. Silver explains:
The nascent movement known as Occupy Wall Street had its largest single day of protests on Saturday. And a funny thing happened: most of the action was far from Wall Street itself.
No, I don’t mean at Zuccotti Park — which is not, technically, on Wall Street. Nor do I mean Times Square — all of 19 minutes away from Wall Street on the ‘C’ train — where large crowds of protesters gathered on Saturday.
Instead I mean Europe, where crowds in cities like Rome, Barcelona and Madrid were estimated at 200,000 to 500,000 per city (more, probably, than the protests in the United States combined). And I mean California and other parts of the western United States, where crowds were proportionately much larger than in the Northeast or elsewhere in the country.
Silver argues further that “…the distribution of protests throughout the United States may reveal something about the political orientation of the protesters.” He explains his methodology:
The way that I studied this was to search through hundreds of local news accounts for credible estimates of the crowd sizes for each gathering. Where possible, I used estimates provided by reporters or public safety officials rather than the protesters themselves as they are less subject to exaggeration. In some cases, there were multiple estimates of the size of the protest in a given city — they ranged, for instance, from about 5,000 to 15,000 for the New York protests — in which case I used the median estimate.
This exercise is meant, in part, to provide a comparison to the crowds that gathered for the first widespread Tea Party protests on April 15, 2009, for which I adopted a similar approach and came up with an estimate of at least 300,000 protesters across the country.
Silver concedes that “Saturday’s Occupy protests were probably smaller than that.” He found crowd size estimates for a total of at least 70K protestors, but he believes it could be as many as 100K in 150 cities across the U.S., which is impressive for a single day.
In terms of regional breakdown, Silver says most of the action was in the west, possibly because of the more liberal political attitudes in the region and abundance of tech-savvy youth mobilizing turnout. He presents a chart showing “protesters per 1 million population,” with the highest percentage turnout in the west, followed by the northeast, the midwest and the south. Notes Silver:
Over all, about 38,000 protesters — more than half of the documented total — turned out in the Western Census Bureau Region, which accounts for about 23 percent of the country’s population. On a per-capita basis, the West drew about two-and-a-half times more protesters than the Northeast, four times more than the Midwest, and five times more than the South. And it wasn’t necessarily in large cities — although places like Los Angeles and Seattle had large crowds, so did the wine-and-cheese town of Santa Rosa, Calif., and the college town of Eugene, Ore., among others.
Silver speculates that, “perhaps the protesters are more ideologically minded than they are interested in partisan politics,” which could be problematic for Democratic hopes of benefitting form OWS. If the protests keep growing at the current fast clip, they could easily approach and perhaps surpass the number of individuals who participated in tea party demos. It will be interesting to see if OWS does as well in terms of media coverage and influence on the political agendas of either party.