It is the day after Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally, guest starring Sarah Palin, in the Don Knotts, Scooby Doo guest star slot, and the spin is on. Beck claims 400,000 people attended, Palin claims 500,000 people attended, and Michele Bachmann said 1 million people were there, but independent estimates place the number at 87,000-100,000 meaning another Beck rally has flopped.
Beck, Palin, and Freedom Works had high hopes for this rally. Beck’s permit was for 300,000 attendees, but it is obvious to all but the most delusional that the rally never approached that number. Before the event according to ABC News, “The National Park Service estimates about a 100,000 people will be in attendance today at Beck’s rally. The DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) is preparing for a crowd of between 100,000 and 200,000 for all rallies taking place in the nation’s capital today.” Early on when Beck talked about the rally on his radio show, he hoped for millions, but he never got close to that pipe dream, my own estimate is that the rally drew somewhere around 100,000, give or take 20,000.
The problem for Right Wing activists is that they poured a great deal of time, money, and effort into getting people out to this event. Groups like local and state Tea Parties, along with Freedom Works organized transportation, and in many cases free busing to the event. The event itself was free, but yet, they still could not deliver a huge crowd. Whereas the original 1963 civil rights march drew an estimated crowd of 250,000, Beck’s rally on the low end might have done about a third of that.
The crazy attendance inflation spin started as soon as yesterday. On her Facebook page Sarah Palin claimed that the event, “drew an estimated crowd of 300,000 – 500,000.” Yesterday, Michele Bachmann told the Washington Post, “We’re not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today – because we were witnesses.” Beck got into the game on Fox News Sunday, when he estimated a crowd of 400,000-600,000.
This is the latest bomb for Beck and Freedom Works, or has everyone already forgotten the 9/12 protest which was supposed to be the largest march on Washington ever, but only drew 30,000-75,000 people? For the sake of contrast, there were two Iraq war protests on Washington that were larger than the 9/12 protest, and rivaled yesterday’s rally in terms of size. The conservative estimate of the crowd size by Air Photos Live is 87,000, and this is probably in the right ballpark.
It is obvious that the people with a political or self interest in this, Palin, Bachmann, and Beck are wildly overinflating the attendance number. Beck seemed to have been counting the combination of his own and Sarah Palin’s popularity to bring in the masses, but Beck has been in a ratings slide for much of 2010, and Sarah Palin’s ability to draw a crowd is a well documented and exaggerated myth. The truth is that Beck keeps holding these rallies, and they all underperform. The Tea Party is not that big or influential. While this event was not a disaster, it has to be disappointed to Right Wing activists that they, not the general public, made up most of the crowd yesterday.
The downsizing of the Republican Party to its ideological core means that rallies like this one aren’t going to attract large numbers of people. Beck and Palin are pushing the fantasy of real America as the silent majority, but this is not the truth. The American political landscape is mostly made up of people in the middle, and divisive figures of the far Right like Beck and Palin do not appeal to the middle. Beck and Palin aren’t as popular as they or their followers would like to believe.
With Beck, Palin, Fox News, and Freedom Works all involved in, or in FNC’s case, promoting the rally, one would expect much higher attendance. Given these factors, there is no way that this event can be considered a success, but the Right is going to spin themselves dizzy to make it so.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association