CLAIM: The presidential campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) claims that she drew 12,000 people to a town hall meeting on the campus of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Monday evening.
VERDICT: The crowd size was closer to 4,000, and probably 6,000 at most.
Crowd size is often seen — rightly or wrongly — as a proxy for political support. It is not always a good measure: 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.
Still, as 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 Warren campaign claims 12,000 attended her town hall at Macalester. That number was repeated by HuffPost, though its source was a tweet by the Warren campaign itself.
The 12,000 figure was never independently confirmed and is probably wrong. It also fits a pattern of (modest) exaggeration by the Warren campaign in recent weeks.
Both Sanders and Warren drew large crowds in town halls across New Hampshire last week. Breitbart News was there to cover both candidates, and estimated that each drew roughly 300 to 400 people at their largest events, respectively.
What was striking was that each campaign reported its numbers differently. 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.
That 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.
Similarly, the Warren campaign has claimed that 12,000 people attended the Macalester event. Breitbart News has learned that the campaign arrived at that figure by counting people who sent a text message to register for the event.
However, while local news agreed that “thousands” attended the Macalester event, the 12,000 figure seemed high.
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. 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.
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. A generous estimate would be 6,000.
Breitbart News has reached out to fire officials in St. Paul, Minnesota, who have yet to provide a figure.
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). 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.
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. One recent poll put Warren ahead in Iowa.