Reports suggest Warren may be inflating crowd size to match Trump

Wednesday, August 21, 2019
Michael F. Haverluck (

Elizabeth Warren pointingSen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign tweeted that her Monday night town hall meeting at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, drew a crowd of 12,000 – reportedly to keep up with numbers recently registered by the Trump campaign – but estimates by other sources indicate less than half that number likely attended the event.

“The crowd size was closer to 4,000 – and probably 6,000, at most,” Breitbart News reported.

Drive to inflate numbers?

As 2020 Democratic presidential candidates strive to rival their likely Republican rival, President Donald Trump, a huge emphasis has been put on the size of their campaign events.

“Crowd size is often seen – rightly or wrongly – as a proxy for political support,” Breitbart’s Joel B. Pollack and Penny Starr pointed out. “[A]s the Democratic Party presidential primary heats up, the rival campaigns are touting attendance figures as a sign of momentum. That creates an incentive to exaggerate.”

The only source for the 12,000-attendance claim was Warren’s campaign tweet, yet the Huffington Post reported the figure as if it were accurate and undisputed, covering the event with the headline, “Elizabeth Warren’s First Campaign Event in Minnesota Draws Massive Crowd.”

“Though the event was billed as a town hall, it more closely resembled a rally once Warren announced the audience Q&A portion of the event would be scrapped – given the massive turnout,” the Huffington Post reported. “Her campaign estimated 12,000 people were in attendance.”

But 2020 Warren Campaign political director and senior adviser Rebecca Pearcey announced the figure as if she were repeating an official count registered by an objective and trusted source.

“12k in the Twin Cities on a Monday night,” Pearcey tweeted Monday night.

Skepticism was evident in responses to Pearcey's tweet:

  • “Warren is my #1 but that doesn’t look like 12,000 people,” Adam H. tweeted soon after Pearcey’s “estimate.”
  • “Did you count?” a Twitter user going by “Alien from Europa” asked moments later.
  • “No. I’m just wondering like how you know it’s that many,” Adam H. responded as if the question were directed at him. “Did anyone count?”

Pearcey quickly answered Adam H., assuring the legitimacy of the 12,000 estimate without mentioning any evidence confirming its authenticity, other than her claim that the Democrat’s campaign is one of integrity.

“Of course we count have you met us?” Pearcey assured in the next tweet.

Warren showed up at the Monday night event just after publicly admitting she lied about being part American Indian. “Warren's appearance in Minnesota comes hours after a Native American forum in Iowa, where the candidate apologized for her past claims to tribal ancestry,” Minnesota’s local KSTP reported.

As of the time this report was published, there was no confirmation that Warren’s Monday night crowd was anywhere near the claimed 12,000.

“The 12,000 figure was never independently confirmed and is probably wrong,” Pollak and Starr stressed. “It also fits a pattern of (modest) exaggeration by the Warren campaign in recent weeks.”

Numbers don’t jive

In fact, when Warren campaigned closer to home earlier this month in the bluer region of the United States in New England, Warren’s crowds did not top 500.

“Both Sanders and Warren drew large crowds in town halls across New Hampshire last week,” the conservative news site informed. “Breitbart News was there to cover both candidates and estimated that each drew roughly 300 to 400 people at their largest events, respectively.”

A trend in Warren’s campaign of more than doubling likely attendance numbers was noted.

“What was striking was that each campaign reported its numbers differently,” Pollak and Starr pointed out from Breitbart’s experience on the Democrats’ campaign trail. “The Sanders campaign provided Breitbart News an exact figure of 327 people at the Littleton Opera House; the Warren campaign claimed that 700 people attended her open-air town hall on a farm in Franconia, though Breitbart News estimated ‘over 300 people’ there.”

Breitbart notes the positive impact of inflated numbers.

“That [300] is still a very good turnout in a rural, mountainous area, however, it seems the Warren campaign hyped the numbers – and to good effect: the figure of 700 was widely reported throughout the mainstream media,” Breitbart noted.

Method questioned … numbers tripling, quadrupling capacity

As with the New Hampshire meeting, Warren’s campaign insisted that there were 12,000 at this week’s town hall, basing the estimate on a count of texts. Local media did not repeat Warren’s claimed number, reporting that the crowd was just in the “thousands.”

“Breitbart News has learned that the campaign arrived at that figure by counting people who sent a text message to register for the event,” Pollak and Starr revealed. “However, while local news agreed that ‘thousands’ attended the Macalester event, the 12,000 figure seemed high.”

Based on the capacity of the Minnesota facilities, Pollak and Starr questioned whether Warren could have packed three to four times that into her event.

“The college’s college security staff said they could not provide a crowd estimate, so Breitbart News contacted the office in charge of facilities rental at Macalester,” Pollak and Starr divulged. “The Warren campaign had initially rented the Leonard Center, which holds 4,000 people. That was deemed to be too small for the event, given expected attendance, so it was moved outside, to Shaw Field – the largest field on campus with a capacity of 3,000, plus ‘spillover’ beyond.”

Using the same criteria, Breitbart questioned the reported attendance as well.

“It seems fair to grant the Warren campaign an attendance of at least 4,000 – i.e., more than the Leonard Center – but given the size of Shaw Field, it is difficult to believe 12,000 people attended,” Breitbart assessed. “A generous estimate would be 6,000.”

Fire officials in St. Paul, Minnesota, have yet to respond to an inquiry about an accurate attendance count. Breitbart, however, offers a theory on how Warren’s team came up with the 12,000-attendance claim.

“The figure of 12,000 is significant because it is the same size as the crowd President Donald Trump drew to the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, last Thursday (there were 11,500 in the building and 8,000 outside, fire officials confirmed),” Breitbart explained.

“Warren’s campaign – for understandable reasons – would like people to think that she is drawing the same size crowds as Trump. It is possible that she could do so, once she has the Democratic nomination; there is certainly a great deal of energy on the Democratic side, but the figure of 12,000 is hype.”

Regardless of the attendance claims, the liberal Massachusetts senator and her self-proclaimed "Democratic socialist" competitor for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), are lighting up the campaign trail – when compared to frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, who typically leads the field by 10 or more points. But Warren could be catching up.

“One thing is clear: Warren and Sanders are each drawing larger crowds than former Vice President Joe Biden – who is leading in nationwide polls, but struggles to draw an audience,” Pollak and Starr stressed. “One recent poll put Warren ahead in Iowa [leading both Biden and Sanders by 11 points].”

But crowd size isn't always a good measure of support at the ballot box, note Pollack and Starr.

“... For example, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) drew massive crowds across California in 2016, but lost the state to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by a wide margin,” Pollak and Starr recounted.


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