How Many Attended the Tea Parties?

Back in April there was a lot of debate about how many people actually attended the April 15 “tea parties” to oppose President Obama’s tax and spending programs. Pajamas Media, an enthusiastic backer of the protests, offered an estimate upwards of 400,000.

Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog, a more skeptical observer, diligently compiled what he considered “nonpartisan and credible” estimates – mostly from mainstream media or police sources – and came up with a detailed sum of about 311,000. Not bad for widely dispersed events, most with no big-name speakers or celebrities, not hyped by the major media (though certainly hyped by some of the conservative media).

But I’ve recently stumbled across reports of two tea parties that didn’t make Silver’s list. In a long profile of a councilwoman who supported Obama in Greenwood, South Carolina, the Washington Post reports on her encountering 200 people at a tea party in Greenwood. And the latest compilation of newspaper clippings from the Mackinac Center includes an April 16 article from the Midland (Michigan) Daily News about a tea party there that attracted 500 people. So who knows how many other farflung events didn’t get included in Silver’s comprehensive list?

Andrew Samwick of Dartmouth complained that the tea parties – and maybe even libertarians – weren’t clearly focused on the problem of spending. As I said in a comment there, I think that’s an unfair charge:

Here’s how one major news outlet reported them:

Nationwide ‘tea party’ protests blast spending - CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/15/tea.parties/ )
ABCNews.com said “Anti-Tax ‘Tea Parties’ Protest President Obama’s Tax and Spending Policies.” USA Today wrote, “What started out as a handful of people blogging about their anger over federal spending — the bailouts, the $787 billion stimulus package and Obama’s budget — has grown into scores of so-called tea parties across the country.”

It’s hard to put specific cuts, especially COLAs and the like, on protest signs; but I think it’s fair to say that the tea-party crowds were complaining about excessive spending and “generational theft.”