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  • 01.21.17

The politics of crowd counting have never been more striking

All throughout the day yesterday, social media users were posting side-by-side images of Trump’s inauguration vs. Obama’s in 2009 as a way of highlighting the vast disparity in the number of attendees. (The Obama crowd seems to have been far more robust.) Just as quickly as those images were posted, other users shot them down as misleading or downright fake. “The angles were different.” “Trump voters were too busy working.” Whatever the excuse, the arguments were a stark reminder that even something as seemingly scientific as crowd counting can be quickly co-opted and distorted by bitter polarization these days.  

This morning, we’re seeing those same arguments play out about the women’s marches in Washington, D.C., and cities around the country. By some accounts, the D.C. march is already bigger than the inauguration. Official numbers probably won’t be available for some time, but how much does size even matter if we’re only willing to believe the numbers that align with our politics?

Fortunately, there are sounder methods for those of us who just want to hear it straight. For more on that, read Sean Captain’s Friday story on the science and politics of head counts. CZ