Counting the crowds

This morning’s brewhaha is about the crowd at the Obama rally on the Summerfest grounds last Friday.

Huge! cries the AP and uses 18,000. At least Politico explains that number is from the Obama campaign. Not so fast others reply. The venue, which was full but not packed, holds 5,000.

You see, when it comes to crowds and campaigns, the perception of size does matter.

(I just thought of two things to use for comparison, and yes, one involved former Congressman Anthony Weiner, but it’s Monday and I need to be good this week because I haven’t stayed out of trouble until Wednesday in a long time.)

Remember this Obama rally from February 2008?

And remember my shot from the same event?


I was labeled a “low-level political hack with an agenda” for that one.

Just for fun, compare it all with these photos from Portland in May 2008 – about the time Obama was capturing the nomination.

And then peruse these tight shots from last Friday.

That’s BMO Harris Pavillion, btw, I was just there for a concert a week ago. Here’s the data from Summerfest. Seating for 5,000, plus another 5,000 standing. It looks from this photo like it was mostly a seated crowd. (No they aren’t sitting here, but they all have seats.)

P.S. Anyone in that crowd look wet to you? After all, it was a steady drizzle. 😉


  1. Weren’t there tickets? So shouldn’t it just be a matter of counting the number of tickets collected? You know, if everything was on the up and up and all.

  2. And all…

  3. Cindy, I was there. It was PACKED! We got there an hour early and the end of the line was already 2/3 of a mile long (I consulted Google Maps). For the next hour and a half a VERY steady flow of people continued to lengthen the queue (frome our vantage, it was actually somewhat entertaining watching the reactions of people as they turned the corner expecting the end, but seeing the line wrap around Discovery World, head back, then away again down the lake front). By the time we actually started moving, the line stretched well into Veteran’s Park, at least 1.5 miles.

    When we got in, all seating was gone (that’s the 5,000 figure you mention), and we ended up in the 5th or 6th row of standers. Within 1/2 hour, all vantage points with views of the stage were gone (which adds another 5,000 to the venues stated capacity). Since you’ve been to the venue, you know the ground slopes up from the stage, then back down toward the south gates of Summerfest. The last time I checked (I did several times because I knew it would be a point of contention), there were at LEAST as many people bunched up on that downward slope with no view save the big screen as there were standing in view of the stage. And the security checkpoint was still maxed out with more people coming in.

    I’d say 18,000 is a perfectly fine estimate.

  4. But the only people that this matters to is conspiracy theorists.

  5. So where are the pictures? I’d love to see them.

    Updated: So the line was 2/3 of a mile long. Let’s use math. A mile is 5,280 linear feet. Assume each person takes up 2 feet. That’s 2,640 people a mile, or 1,760 for the 2/3 of a mile.

    To stand 5,000 people in a line (seats in the venue, not saying that was the exact count) that would be a little less than 2 miles.

    OMG! There was a line a mile (or two) long! Would still mean less than the 18,000 conveyed by the campaign.

    And guess what? They don’t open the gates ON PURPOSE just so they can photograph those lines.

    Hugs and stuff,


    P.S. There were seats behind that guy in the ball cap.

  6. Oh, and did you have to use a ticket to get in?

  7. Well, for starters, it wasn’t a single file line. There were 8 in my group and we took up maybe two file in the rank (rank in the file?). So at four per row you get 7,040 in line up to where we initially waited.

    Once we got in, there were 5,000+ already seated in the venue seats, and they had two additional portable bleacher seating sections set up that each held 250 (said so on the safety sticker on the side) so another 500. And I’d estimate 1,000+ were standing ahead of us. So 6,500 vs. 7,040? Not bad. And it just got bigger and bigger after we found our spot.

    As for empty seats, trust me, there weren’t any. If there were, I promise you my ass would have been in one. After 4 hours of standing, my dogs were barking. They swapped out the people who were seated on the actual stage several times, my guess is to allow more to say they were up their, maybe to reward sponsors or volunteers or whatnot, and my guess is that any empty seats captured on that video were a result of one of those transitions.

    As for tickets, yes, they ripped them on the way in. But seriously, would it make any difference to you if the campaign said “we collected 18,000 stubs?” You’d just say they were lying.

  8. Tickets were required to get in, friend of mine was turned away. Different acquaintance posted a pic of the line being well south of the War Memorial and growing. He did post an inside pic that shows a decent crowd all the way up to the crest of the rise, but it’s definitely not packed in. I suspect there was at least 10k people there, but hard pressed to believe the 18k. At some point the fire marshal must have cut off attendance because the turned away friend was told it was ‘sold out’. In any case, to my earlier post comment, the last sentence here says it all –

  9. The venue holds 10,000: 5 seated, 5 standing:

    And as I said, there were at LEAST as many standing who couldn’t see as standing who could. That’s 15,000 minimum with more on the way in.

  10. Not to mention that everyone who went didn’t queue at the same time. Lots of hazy math going around here as usual.

    Speaking of, did you see how Mark Neumann, “Mr. Fiscal Responsibility” is begging for donations to erase the $125,000 he overspent in his latest failed attempt?

  11. when President Reagan was in the milwaukee area the place was crowded up front but in the back we found standing room. so what’s the point. an old political trick is to “paper” an event, that is to give dinner or pay as you go tickets away to get a crowd. I was at a Republican local event sponsored by a well known benefactor and there were 3-5 people there including my wife and I. by this time in the campaigns it must be quite difficult to get people to go out of their way to see and hear the same old stuff. rock stars draw more people. by the time the election comes the main issue will be the weather on election day. it always is.

  12. Randy in Richmond says:

    I would advise Neumann to borrow a page from the beggar-in-chief and ask people for donations in lieu of receiving gifts for their “birthday, bar or bat mitzvah, wedding, or anniversary”.

  13. No, jimspice, I’d ask them to prove it.

    Funny the lower level of sophistication. If I remember other crowds have been scanned into an event.

  14. Lorax, my email said $152,000. Back to that hazy math. Maybe it as 81,000 at the Obama event!

  15. Oh, this is precious. MSM is now reporting the source of the 18k estimate. None other than Tom Barrett 🙂 Maybe he was counting at the door. Or perhaps he inflated the count to justify why the MPD should be protecting the lakefront and not the Sheriff!

  16. As BrkfldDad notes (indirectly), why all the attention to Wisconsin if Obama is so far ahead?

    And why claim a crowd is 18k when the size of the venue is so easily determined?

    Are y’all gonna force me to look at the C-SPAN video of the event? Really?

    I got stuff to do… 🙂

  17. I just saw that through a release from the RNC, Bdad.

    I’ll admit crowds are hard to estimate, but 18,000 at that venue? Nah.

  18. Can’t remember what talking heads show it was on yesterday, but there was an expressed DNC/Obsma concern that the enthusiasm gap has increased. Democratic voters have lost their zeal and the worry is that turns into complacency on election day, especially if Obama is perceived as a lock to win. The ‘good’ polls were actually noted as an entusiasm gap negative for Obama.

  19. Will you at least admit that the capacity, as my link showed, is 10K, not 5K as you stated? And if so, that it was bigger than that by several thousand (as MANY had NO view of the stage)? Those are obvious answers to me.

  20. Nah, jimspice, we’re done here. Crowds are tough to estimate. Cool dudes use scanners and count a crowd in. They do it everywhere now. I guess Obama just isn’t that cool.

    You will also find I gave the capacity as 5,000 plus 5,000 in my post. In fact, I used the link you used before you used it.

    So much for taking emotion out of your argument. Geez. The pretty pictures upset you and you didn’t get that far?

  21. Randy sent me that a couple of days ago. Love it. Fingers crossed.

  22. You dropped a few notches in my book Cindy. I’m sure you’re crushed.

  23. No, jimspice, I held you accountable. I link the source you do before you do it and now I’ve dropped a few notches? Excuse me. I have to go cry into my coffee. Or something.

  24. Randy in Richmond says:

    I think you’re getting your groove back as predicted, Cindy.

  25. DICK STEINBERG says:

    must be a new computer glitsch. I am not anonymous. Dick Steinberg