Rival Claims about Crowd Sizes of the Glenn Beck/Stewart-Colbert Rallies

Whitney D. Gunter, Western Michigan University
Joel Best, University of Delaware


Analysts argue that the Internet can democratize the construction of social problems and reduce claimsmakers’ dependence on coverage in traditional media. This paper examines Internet claims about the relative sizes of 2010 rallies on the Washington, D.C. National Mall hosted by Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert. Because crowd size is understood to be an index for the popularity of social causes, and because the two rallies were taken to stand for opposing positions in the culture war, numerous advocates offered competing analyses of the crowds’ relative sizes. Analysis of these claims suggests that the Internet offers a forum where a host of arguments and evidence can be presented in a short period of time. Yet, although crowd size is an empirical issue, there was little effort to reconcile competing arguments and arrive at general agreement, and, without media coverage, these claims failed to attract much public attention.