The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President Trump’s crowd-size estimates: Increasingly unbelievable

The president boasts about the massive crowds that attend his rallies, but his estimates are often off. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

“We went to Mississippi, we went to Missouri, we went to Nevada, we went to — every place, and we have crowds, we have tens of thousands of people outside of every arena. They have to start building larger arenas in this country, right? Something is happening.”

— President Trump, at a campaign rally in Lebanon, Ohio, Oct. 12, 2018

“The crowds at my Rallies are far bigger than they have ever been before, including the 2016 election. Never an empty seat in these large venues, many thousands of people watching screens outside. Enthusiasm & Spirit is through the roof. SOMETHING BIG IS HAPPENING - WATCH!”

— Trump, in a tweet, Oct. 15, 2018

“There have never been crowds like this, just so you understand, in the history of politics. You’ve never had crowds like this for midterm elections. There’s never been crowds like this.”

— Trump, at a campaign rally in Macon, Ga., Nov. 4, 2018

“I’m pretty good at estimating crowd sizes, as you have probably figured out.”

— Trump, in remarks at the White House, Oct. 23, 2018

Trump has been inflating the size of his crowds since his early days as a candidate. His presidency began with a surreal national debate over how many people attended his inauguration.

And this year, at midterm campaign rallies across the country, the president’s crowd-size boasts became a big bugaboo for fact-checkers. There’s no question Trump can draw supporters by the thousands, but his pumped-up numbers are so extravagant most of the time that they have little or no basis in fact.

For example, Trump claimed 50,000 people were outside a rally in Houston because they couldn’t get in, but the city’s police chief said the number was much lower: 3,000. In Cleveland, Trump claimed “thousands” of people were outside because the venue was packed. But Twitter users at the event posted evidence that Trump didn’t fill the venue and that only a handful of people were milling around in the parking lot.

In Tampa, Trump claimed thousands of people who couldn’t get in were watching outside on a “tremendous movie screen” — that didn’t exist.

It’s a mystery how Trump comes up with these estimates and details about his rallies. His campaign didn’t get back to us. But in almost every instance, the president’s numbers don’t add up or are contradicted by reporters or local officials.

We reconstructed as much as we could and compared Trump’s estimates of his crowd sizes this year with information from local media, law enforcement or attendees posting photos and videos on Twitter. Trump has held 44 rallies this year, but we focused only on 19 for which he gave some kind of estimate of the crowd size.

“Thank you for that incredible support and, by the way, you want to see a lot of people — go outside. We could have filled this place up, probably five or six times.” (Rally in Washington Township, Mich., April 28)

Trump held this event at Total Sports Park, which was packed with an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people. So the president’s claim here is that 25,000 to 36,000 people may have been rallying outside.

According to a local news report, approximately 30,000 people were expected to attend this Trump rally. But we couldn’t find evidence that this prediction turned out to be accurate. Local news reports estimated only that “thousands” attended. Photos taken by local media and video from CNN suggest that the crowd outside the event was much smaller than 25,000. A Twitter user inside the venue for the rally estimated that there were “at least twice as many” people watching outside on a big screen. It’s unclear how he landed on that number, but if it’s accurate, it would represent fewer than half the people Trump estimated.

Without any hard evidence to support Trump’s claim, it’s a bit absurd to imagine 30,000 people or so squinting at a Jumbotron while the president addressed a much smaller crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 inside the venue.

“You know we have an event. I hear we have 12,000 people there. They have 12,000 seats. We have 12,000 people.” (Rally in Nashville, May 29)

Local officials estimated attendance at 5,500.

“In my last speech, it’s in Minnesota, great place, unbelievable crowd. It seated 9,000, and they had 15,000 or 20,000 people outside couldn’t get in. It was incredible.” (Rally in Duluth, Minn., June 20)

This rally was held at Amsoil Arena, which can seat more than 9,000. According to a local news report, an arena official said 8,372 people attended Trump’s rally and many others were turned away at the door. There’s nothing to indicate they hung around outside.

“This place is packed. The only thing more packed is outside, trying to get in. They’re having a hard time. They can’t get in. It’s full. You know, we had the chance for a 24,000-seat arena. … Twenty-four thousand seats. No, we would have filled it up very easily.” (Rally in Fargo, N.D., June 27)

This venue, Scheels Arena, seats up to 6,000. Trump suggested with no evidence that three times as many people were outside.

It appears that 20,000 people signed up for tickets to this Trump rally, but that doesn’t mean 20,000 people were outside. About 300 to 400 people outside were protesters, according to a local news report. That report also said Trump supporters who couldn’t get into the rally were told by the Secret Service and local officials to “disperse” and go watch it on TV. “Many sat outside the arena watching Trump speak on their phones,” the West Fargo Pioneer reported.

“And outside, you probably know what’s going on. There are thousands and thousands of people. And we’ve decided from now on, we’re going to put up screens and loudspeakers so people can stay around. Because this happens all the time. I said to my people, why didn’t you get a larger arena?” (Rally in Great Falls, Mont., July 5)

“Thousands and thousands” appears to be a huge stretch. The county sheriff estimated that 8,000 people had lined up for this rally, according to a local news report. The Four Seasons Arena holds 6,600, and Cascade County, which owns the venue, estimated attendance of more than 6,500.

Assuming everyone who was turned away lingered outside the rally, that rounds out to 1,500 at most, not “thousands and thousands.” (Another possibility: Trump couldn’t fill this arena, because the county estimated the crowd size as slightly below the venue’s capacity.)

“And by the way, outside, if you want to go, we set up, for the first time, a tremendous movie screen, because we have thousands and thousands of people outside that couldn’t get in.” (Rally in Tampa, July 31)

Kudos to the Tampa Bay Times for running down this false claim in real time. The newspaper reported that “hundreds” of people were outside this Trump rally, not “thousands and thousands.” And some of them were protesters. And there was no “tremendous movie screen” anywhere in sight.

“But are they going to talk about the thousands and thousands of people inside of this arena and outside of the arena, where we put screens? No.” (Rally in Evansville, Ind., Aug. 30)

A capacity crowd of nearly 11,000 filled the Ford Center for Trump’s rally. There were an estimated 1,000 protesters outside, plus “a small group of Trump supporters,” according to the Courier and Press. No sign of screens.

“Outside, you have thousands and thousands of people. … You think you’re a lot of people? How about doubling or tripling it outside? And Josh [Hawley] said that — Josh said that. And we put big screens outside because this is happening all over the country. We put big, beautiful screens — so to all of the people outside, you’re not as good in real estate as the people inside, but we’ll get you next time.” (Rally in Springfield, Mo., Sept. 21)

“And in Missouri, they had — you saw it — 45,000 people outside.” (Trump remarks, Oct. 1)

“Hey, Missouri. They had 44,000 people outside of a big arena, 44,000 people.” (Trump remarks, Oct. 4)

“I mean, we had in Missouri 45,000 people that couldn’t get into a 10,000-seat arena because it was packed.” (Trump remarks, Oct. 20)

This venue, JQH Arena, holds 11,000. There’s no evidence that people hovered around if they couldn’t get in or that TV screens were mounted outside.

Josh Hawley, the Republican candidate with whom Trump was campaigning that day, said 20,000 people had been turned away. There’s no evidence for this claim, either, but the Trump campaign appears to have gotten 20,000 people to register for tickets online. (That doesn’t mean they all showed up, or that those who couldn’t get in lingered outside the venue.)

We have no clue how 20,000 in Hawley’s estimation became 45,000 in Trump’s. In any case, both numbers seem to be seriously inflated.

A police spokeswoman told the News-Leader that 12,000 people showed up. That suggests 1,000 people were turned away if the venue was at capacity. A city official told the newspaper that 2,000 people were turned away.

“For context, Trump’s claim that 44,000 people were outside the Springfield rally would mean a crowd that’s equivalent to more than a quarter of Springfield’s total population. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 167,000 live in the city of Springfield,” the News-Leader reported in a fact check of Trump’s claim.

“And I always tell you, it’s so easy to be presidential, but instead of having 10,000 people outside trying to get into this packed arena, we’d have about 200 people standing right there.” (Rally in Wheeling, W.Va., Sept. 29)

This venue, WesBanco Arena, holds 5,600. There’s no evidence there were 10,000 people outside. Local news reports mentioned long lines of Trump supporters waiting to enter the venue, as well as “dozens of peaceful protesters … lining the streets.”

“That’s why outside right now — I hope they haven’t left — we put big screens out there for them. But you have close to 20,000 people standing outside.” (Rally in Johnson City, Tenn., Oct. 1)

Freedom Hall, where Trump held this rally, holds 8,000 to 8,500. The director of the center told the Johnson City Press that 6,500 people were allowed in, 1,000 were sent into an overflow room with large screens, and between 1,500 and 2,000 were outside watching large screens.

That’s 18,000 to 18,500 fewer people outside than Trump claimed.

“Thousands of people in a room next door, thousands and thousands of people outside trying to get in, this big stadium is packed, always.” (Rally in Rochester, Minn., Oct. 4)

A capacity crowd of nearly 10,000 filled this venue, “with 1,000 to 2,000 more watching on giant screens outside, according to city officials,” the Star-Tribune reported. Also, “hundreds marched nearby in protest of Trump’s visit.” This was a convention center, not, as Trump claimed, a stadium.

“In Erie, Pennsylvania, the other night with 25,000 people outside of a 12,000-seat arena. It’s been amazing.” (Interview in Lebanon, Ohio, Oct. 12)

Police estimated 3,000 people outside a 9,000-seat venue in Erie on Oct. 10, according to the Times-News.

“You know, outside, you have 25,000, 35,000, some crazy number of people, and we set up movie screens. We set up beautiful movie screens.” (Rally in Richmond, Ky., Oct. 13)

This event drew an estimated 6,100 inside the venue and a “large crowd” in the parking lot. A photo posted on Twitter by a local news reporter shows this crowd facing a movie screen.

But there’s no indication this crowd was bigger than 1,000 or 2,000 people at most. In addition, “hundreds” of people outside were there to protest Trump, according to the Herald-Leader. The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson was at this event and noted that most people who were in line and turned away at the door decided to leave rather than stand outside in 47-degree weather.

“Fifty thousand people outside. Who we love. And we put big screens out for them. Let’s wave to them. Wave!” (Rally in Houston, Oct. 22)

“We have — the other night in Houston, the Houston Rockets, the arena, packed, set a new record. Outside, tens of thousands of people, 109,000 people — 109,000 people wanted to come.” (Trump remarks, Oct. 26)

“We had over 100,000 people that wanted to come. We had 22,000 people in the arena. We had thousands and thousands of people outside of the arena.” (Trump remarks, Nov. 2)

According to the Houston police chief, Art Acevedo, 18,000 to 19,000 were in the venue for Trump’s rally and 3,000 watched on a big screen outside.

The arena seats 18,000. Many hundreds of seats were empty, including all of the boxes on both tiers of the mezzanine,” the Dallas Morning News reported.

So, according to the paper, the president didn’t fill the venue, and according to the police, the crowd outside was a paltry 6 percent of Trump’s grandiose estimate of 50,000.

Total attendance inside and outside the venue appears to have been roughly 20,000, representing fewer than half the people who attended a concert in Austin with Willie Nelson and Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke. (That event did draw more than 50,000 attendees, according to the Dallas Morning News.)

Trump’s campaign claimed 109,000 people registered for tickets to this Houston rally. Again, though, this is not a measure of the actual crowd size. Anyone could go online and register for two free tickets.

“And when we start changing around our lives and changing around our schedules and telling thousands and thousands — look at this group of people and outside. And I hate to say it, but outside you have a group that’s almost as big or just as big trying to get in. So you got the better location, but … but they have a better movie screen, okay? And they’re great.” (Rally in Murphysboro, Ill., Oct. 27)

This rally which Trump held on the same day as a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue took place in an airport hangar that holds 600 people at capacity, according to a local media report. (If Trump really expected “thousands and thousands” to show up, he might have picked a bigger location.)

A local CBS affiliate reported that 4,000 people were inside, while an overflow crowd was outside the hangar. A Republican state lawmaker from Illinois was quoted as saying that 8,500 people in total went through metal detectors. That uncorroborated claim seems to support Trump’s line that “a group almost as big” as the 4,000 attendees inside the hangar was outside.

At this event, the Daily Herald reported a remarkable detail about the video programming outside Trump’s rallies: “A video played on two big screens outside the hangar that told people if they spied anyone in the crowd not supporting Trump, they should surround that person, hold up their placards and chant ‘Trump Trump Trump’ until that person is removed.”

“This is such a big group. And outside, we have more.” (Rally in Fort Myers, Fla., Oct. 31)

A reporter for the Naples Daily News was outside the venue while Trump was speaking. He took video of the crowd. It was paltry.

“The thousands of people that are in other part of the airport watching this on television. Thousands and thousands of additional people.” (Rally in Macon, Ga., Nov. 4)

“I went and did a rally, and the real number was probably 55,000 people, cause, you know, were you there in Georgia? … Because we had a hangar, another hangar holding 18,000 at the top of the hangar. These are massive, like 747 hangars.” (Trump, in an interview with the Daily Caller, Nov. 14)

This one is outrageous. Trump says he filled airport hangars not one but two! during a rally with Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in Georgia.

But there was only one hangar. The crowd at this event was divided in three: the people inside, the people just outside the open hangar, and a third group watching a TV screen on a different part of the premises, sandwiched between the airport and a corporate office.

Kemp’s campaign estimated that 10,000 people attended in total, and the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office estimated 12,500 inside and nearly 6,000 outside, according to a fact-check by WMAZ. The overflow crowd sandwiched between the airport and the corporate office numbered in the “hundreds,” according to Atlanta magazine.

The most generous tally, 18,500, is a far cry from the 55,000 Trump claimed.

“Should we let them in or not? The problem is we don’t have the room to let them in. Thousands of people outside.” (Rally in Cleveland, Nov. 5)

“In Ohio, where we had a crowd like this, and outside there were thousands and thousands of people.” (Trump remarks, Nov. 5)

Twitter users at this event found that the crowd did not fill the venue.

While Trump was speaking, four people were in front of a TV screen set up outside the venue, according to a photo taken by a Twitter user at the event.

“Take a look outside at the thousands and thousands of people that wanted to get inside. You got lucky.” (Rally in Fort Wayne, Ind., Nov. 5)

“And then we went to Indiana, where we had a crowd like this, and there were thousands and thousands of people outside.” (Trump remarks, Nov. 5)

Reporters at this event found no people waiting outside.

The Pinocchio Test

These relentless, fantastical boasts show a deep schism between the president’s self-image and reality.

Let’s leave out all the instances in which Trump said “thousands and thousands” and focus only on the rallies for which he gave hard numbers or indicated rough totals. At nine such rallies this year, the president’s estimates came to 352,600 people combined. Our review of official counts and news reports shows the number was much lower: 100,972.

That means Trump multiplied his crowd sizes by a factor of 3.5, at minimum. Of course, this doesn’t take into account all the times he made wild assertions about his crowd sizes without giving hard numbers.

These claims deserve Four Pinocchios. Or, if you prefer to use Trump’s math, “thousands and thousands” of Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

(About our rating scale)

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter

The Fact Checker is a verified signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network code of principles

Share the Facts
Washington Post rating logoWashington Post Rating:
Four Pinocchios
“The crowds at my Rallies are far bigger than they have ever been before, including the 2016 election. Never an empty seat in these large venues, many thousands of people watching screens outside."
in a tweet
Monday, October 15, 2018
Share the Facts
Washington Post rating logoWashington Post Rating:
Four Pinocchios
“I’m pretty good at estimating crowd sizes, as you have probably figured out.”
in remarks at the White House, Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018