Sunday, May 13, 2007

Rally numbers inflated by patriotic spin?

Organizers of the Stand Up For Newfoundland & Labrador rally were hoping for a turnout in the thousands for their event on Friday. In fact, they would have needed a major mob – anywhere from five to ten thousand people – to demonstrate that a substantial segment of the population stands firmly behind the premier in his equalization battle with Stephen Harper.

According to the CBC News web site, there were “at least 1,500 people” there, while VOCM reported after the event that there were “some 3 thousand.”

The Telegram opened its page one, above-the-fold coverage by saying, “Several thousand frustrated and angry” people gathered for the event. However, it is not clear if they did their own rough head count, or relied on estimates given by organizers. Further in the article, reporter Terry Roberts wrote: “with an estimated 3,000 people on hand for a lunch-hour event, organizers say the turnout exceeded expectations.” There is no attribution given for this number, but organizer Peter Whittle is quoted in the next sentence, so perhaps he is the source.

I looked up “several” and the definition is “more than a few, quite a few, quite a lot of,” whereas 3,000 could only be described as a “few” thousand.

Okay, perhaps I am getting pedantic here. But there was also early VOCM coverage, live from the event on Friday afternoon, which said “hundreds are gathered on the Hill at this hour…” Was it already apparent that thousands were not going to happen?

Most telling has been the tone of discussion at one of the web sites that promoted this event, which has been quite muted subsequent to Friday. There are 24 comments (at last count) in which many express disappointment with the turnout. These remarks caught my attention:

“I was there... no way it was over 1000 people. I was very disappointed in my fellow Newfoundlanders. Once again we flop over and do nothing.”

“I hate to wade in on the onslaught of Federalist love-in types posting here lately and trying to belittle the protest but I was there and having been to many large happenings (protests, concerts, etc.) before I would put the crowd at around 3000.”

“I went down with my big Canadian flag and was told not to wave it around while the cameras were there. This province sucks. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. And it WASN'T a big crowd.”

It should be noted that all of these posts were anonymous, so we can't put much weight on them.

But I ask you, how hard is it to calculate the size of a crowd? I think some of the reported numbers have been inflated by patriotic spin. This is not a crime since media will also do it for hometown sports teams, though an issue critical to federal-provincial relations is perhaps more important. I am quite happy to eat my words if someone wants to send me a decent wide shot of the event, showing the main body of the crowd, with enough resolution that I can count the heads. If proven wrong, I will eat crow.

Until then, my gut tells me that the crowd was in the 1,200 to 1,500 range. With a population of 181,000 within easy driving distance, that would be a poor turnout (especially given the substantial advance promotion and brilliant weather on Friday). After all, a crowd of perhaps 6,000 turned out at Mile One on Saturday night to watch ‘professional’ wrestlers.

As a tactic, this event was risky with some potential to backfire. A massive turnout of 5,000 or more was necessary to send a convincing message to Ottawa. A small turn-out would give Stephen Harper ammunition to stand in the house and claim that this is not an issue for most Newfoundlanders.

Somebody out there must have a photo. Let’s count the heads, and let the facts prevail.

UPDATE: The photo above can be viewed at Kim Goodyear's photography blog. Kim says this image represents about two-thirds of the crowd. You can open a high resolution version of the photo at her site.


WJM said...

It's interesting that photos showing this massive crowd haven't shown up on the organizers' own websit.

Ed Hollett said...

By my rough count, there are fewer than 500 people in Kim's shot of the crowd.

Even if I allow that she has about one third of the crowd in that shot (and it might be half at best), then I have a hard time cracking 1500 for the total.

It's only 3000 if you have problems with math or need your eyes checked.

Greg Locke said...

Actually, there is a very simple method of estimating large groups of anything. The police use it, anthropologists use it and reputable journalists use it ...amoung others.

Standard sampling says you count 10 (or chose a number) of a large group and then start multiplying the sample selection.

Based on Kim's photo and her suggestion of a percentage of what the photo represents I'd say CBC's estimate would be closest to the truth.


WJM said...

Standard sampling says you count 10 (or chose a number) of a large group and then start multiplying the sample selection.

Multiplying it by what?

If, as Kim says, her photo covers off about 2/3 of the crowd, my sample — which is a 100% sample — yields a crowd size nowhere near 1000, let alone multiples of 1000.

Too bad you are in exile from Dannystan; no doubt you'd have been forward-thinking enough to get some wide shots.

I still find it odd that with digital cameras all over the place, no such photo has yet surface, esp. one which would back up the more extravagant crowd estimates. Both the Telegram and CBC stories used really narrow shots.

Ed Hollett said...

Greg's idea sounds like a decent one to get a ballpark. Split the speace up into segments, count the sample segment and then multiply by the total segments.

At the outside the crowd was about 1500, given people poked in places that can't seen in the various shots.

No way it hit 3K

WJM said...

Greg's idea sounds like a decent one to get a ballpark. Split the speace up into segments, count the sample segment and then multiply by the total segments.

You need a good preliminary sample to work with though.

Still waiting for that wide shot of the whole crowd.

Table Mountains said...

if they wanted large numbers they should of held a job fair at the confederation building. job fairs seem to be the thing nowadays in drawing large crowds.

Mike said...

Guess I missed the chance. I was more interested in what was being said then the number of people. How stupid of me. Apparently LOOKS are the important thing.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Well, Mike, the content was important.

It was reported. Cleary published his comments as his column in the Friday Indy.

The content was generally predictable. Of course, since there were all sorts of claims about how many people would turn out and did turn out, that's become a bit of a topic for discussion.