The Numbers at the 326 March in Taiwan

This is the regular post here about the number of people who attended a public demonstration.  This subject is always of interest to me, since the claims are usually lined up with political stances.  It is also interesting to see how the media can get spinned to report such numbers; alternately, the media may go through contortions in their descriptions in order not to appear to be spinned.

The first report comes from TVBS, which has a helicopter doing live television coverage of the 326 march.

According to the exclusive TVBS report (via Yahoo! News), one million people were on the streets of Taipei City.  There were ten different march routes, and the total length of the marchers was estimated to be more than 40 kilometers.  According to Bloomberg News, "Today's crowd exceeded 800,000 and was approaching a million, the United Evening News estimated."

The second number came from the Taipei City police department, as reported by TVBS.  According to the Director of Information Services of the City of Taipei Yu Tzu-hsiang: "The Taipei City police department looked at the area occupied by the number of marchers, and estimated that the largest number of marchers occurred around 4:45pm and that number was estimated to be 275,000."  Earlier during the day, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jiou had quoted a police estimate of 240,000, but the Taipei police department later revised the estimate upwards to 275,000.

As usual, this subject is a political football, especially when opposing claims are wildly different.  According to the Central News Agency (via Yahoo! News), the DPP's Director of Information Cheng Wen-tsan claimed that this 326 march was far larger than others in history, and the figure of 1,000,000 is absolutely not an exaggeration.  He further asserted that the number of people mobilized by the DPP itself would have exceeded 240,000.  

To TVBS  (via Yahoo! News), Cheng Wen-tsan said: "This was an event organized to show our voices to the international community.  But whether it was 1,000,000 or 1,200,000 people, the mayor of the capital was only concerned about being elected as his Party's chairman, so he insisted on a number of 240,000 and made the police bear the responsibility.  This was very improper and proves that he is intolerant.  It also proves that he looked for an excuse to shift the responsibility and not be held accountable."

But Mayor Ma Ying-jiou was not going to take the abuse, and so struck back (TVBS via Yahoo! News) with a snarl: "The police counted one area at a time.  There were ten assembly points.  There were supposed to be 3,800 tour buses, but in the end there were only 1,854.  Therefore, the number of people is closer to our figure.  This is the second largest crowd in history, behind the 450,000 at the 313 pan-blue rally last year."

Cheng Wen-tsan cried foul: "We mobilized 3,850 buses, and there were some last-minute entries.  We are aware of more than 4,000 buses."  The DPP claimed that 4,000 buses at 50 persons each is already 200,000.  Adding those who traveled by train, drove in by automobile or live in the Greater Taipei area, the number must therefore be more than 1 million.

According to China Times, the Taipei City Rapid Transit authorities reported that on March 26, 170 extra subway trains were run for a total of 1,170,000 passenger trips, compared to the normal 969,000 passenger trips.  Thus, there was an addition of about 210,000 passenger trips.  If these were all round trips, then the additional number of unique passengers is about 100,000.  

Meanwhile, the Central News Agency (via Yahoo! News) quotes the DPP as claiming that 170,000 more people took the subway and that between 200,000 to 300,000 either walked, took public buses or drove their own vehicles.  There is no further explanation about the basis for those numbers.

In the very same China Times report, President Chen Shui-bian said that he believed that one million people participated in the march and that two-thirds of them are from Taipei.  This was a rebuttal of Vice-President Annette Lu's complaint that 'the people of Taipei went into hiding.'  Lu has come back to explain that she had not meant to criticize the people of Taipei.  Lu said that when she read the media reporting that more than 3,000 tour buses came into Taipei City, she thought that if there were more citizens from Taipei at the march, there would not be any need to mobilize so many people from the outside.

TVBS (via Yahoo! News) conducted a sample survey on the subject of march participation.  According to that survey, 9% of the population participated in the march.  Since the total number of persons age 20 or over in Taiwan is 16,680,000, 9% is projected to 1,501,200 marchers.  Not even the DPP is going to say that this number is right.  Within the city of Taipei, 12% of the respondents said that they participated, for a projected number of 180,000 marchers.

Now the first caveat is that this overall estimate is useless due to information contamination.  Since the survey was conducted after it was made known that there was a major public dispute over the attendance figure, the pan-green camp supporters who did not attend are likely to say yes when surveyed because they want to support their party.  The other point to note is that even under the condition of contamination, the estimated number of participants from Taipei City was only 180,000 and not the 667,000 claimed by the president.

Meanwhile, according to TVBS (via Yahoo! News) and Taiwan Daily (via Yahoo! News), the DPP has conducted its own sample survey.  According to this survey, 5.5% of the 1,293 survey respondents marched.  Based upon a population of 16,740,000 persons age 20 or over, this is projected to 930,000 marchers.  Of these, 670,000 actually marched along the ten routes, and the other 260,000 proceeded directly to Ketagalan Boulevard.  230,000 of these marchers came from Taipei City and 200,000 came from Taipei Country.  We remind the reader that any survey estimate in the aftermath of a public dispute is contaminated.

You think you got that?  But along comes, "Thousands of tour buses from all over the island arrived in Taipei filled with protesters, who assembled in 10 different areas -- each route representing one of the articles of the anti-secession law.  The marchers then converged on the wide boulevard in front of the president's office.  Police estimated the crowd at about a million, The Associated Press reported."  And Keith Bradser of the New York Times wrote: "Organizers said they had met their goal of attracting a million protesters, though the police put the crowd at more than 500,000."  That, of course, is wrong unless there are other police departments in Taipei City.  How did Associated Press and NYT come up with these numbers?  Who gave them the Kool-Aid to drink?  You'll have to go ask them yourself.

What is the objective truth?  

On one hand, the organizer's number of 1,000,000 (or more) is not based upon any direct measure.  It is therefore doubly tainted by subjective human perceptions as well as political interests.  In this case, the organizers predicted a turnout of 1,000,000, so the number must be at least that.  Right?

On the other hand, the police estimate is based upon taking the area occupied by the marchers and multiplying by a density factor.  The areal density estimation method is not a direct headcount, but this is in fact an international standard.  The police departments in New York City, San Francisco, London, Paris, Hong Kong and elsewhere will do the same.  Such estimates are not always convincing, as the police are often charged with political motives for understating attendance at anti-government protests.  According to the Taipei City police, they have previously sent professionals overseas to study how other countries conduct crowd size estimation since such information is significant for police resource allocation.  The police  department says that they collect the information solely for public safety concerns, and they really don't care about any politics one way or the other.

According to United News Net (via Yahoo! News), the police assumed a density factor of four persons per each square meter and then they used aerial photographs of Ketagalan Boulevard at the time of maximum crowd level.  The DPP is protesting that the estimation area was restricted to within Ketagalan Boulevard when there were many people who could not get into that street.  However, the police pointed out if there were really 1 million people, the crowd would have to fill the entire Roosevelt Road much further down south, which was obviously not the case.

More information was given at Central Broadcasting News (via Yahoo! News).  Along the ten march routes, eight separate police precincts estimated the counts and made reports every 15 minutes.  After all the groups arrived at Ketagalan Boulevard, the police made one final estimation.  Of the 275,000 persons, about 35,000 were gathered on the Ketagalan Boulevard and on the north/south plazas in front of the Presidential Office; the overflows down Hsinyi and Jenai Road each contained 70,000 people; 50,000 more were down Chungshan S. Road; and 27,000 were at the Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall.  If you accept that this is the correct area, then the only way to reach 1,000,000 is to assume a density of about 15 persons per square meter, which can only be said to be 'crushing.'

Since there is no definitive number here, this will remain a point of contention for some time.  The smart thing to do is to be wishy-washy and use an ambiguous description.  For example, BBC reported: "Hundreds of thousands of people have marched through the Taiwanese capital, Taipei, protesting against China's anti-secession law."  So everybody is pleased and nobody is offended.  You may think that statistics is an objective science, but it is really a subjective art in real life.

This other 326 march number ought not to be in doubt because the attendees are few enough to be counted exactly.  From the Central News Agency, which represents the government of Taiwan:

About 200 Hong Kong people marched from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to China's joint liaison office in Hong Kong Friday to protest Beijing's enactment of the Anti-Secession Law. The protest was timed to coincide with a similar protest in Taipei, Taiwan to show Hong Kong people's solidarity with the Taiwan people, said an organizer.

Oops!  The BBC just said:

In Hong Kong, about 100 people marched through the streets in support of the Taiwanese protesters.

This number will necessarily be small in Hong Kong.  Who cares if it is 100 or 200?  It is miniscule relative to a population of almost 7 million.  If the event were truly about protesting the heavy-handed way by which the Anti-Secession Law was enacted or an appeal for peace between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, there might be a heavier turnout.  As it stands, this demonstration is confounded by two other causes that are not mainstream Hong Kong values.  

First is Taiwan independence.  Even the CNA press release was careful to protect the march organizer by adding this qualifier: "The protestors had no sympathy for Taiwan independence but believed the opinion of Taiwan people should be respected when it comes to the unification of the mainland and Taiwan, the organizer went on."  Taiwan independence is toxic and/or anathema in Hong Kong.  For a local politician, the worse nightmare is to show up for a demonstration that was billed as a peace rally and then to have someone unfurl a Taiwan independence banner right behind him/her while on television camera.

Second is FLG.  If you look at the photos of the Hong Kong march presented at Secret China News, you would think that this was a FLG event in which Chinese Communist Party members are urged to join their '500,000' ex-comrades who have already answered the call of the FLG master-teacher and resigned.  One cannot even discern if these marchers have anything to say about Taiwan itself.

Meanwhile, the coverage of this march in the local Hong Kong media is NIL.  I checked the local news sections at the online editions of ten major Hong Kong newspapers and I found absolutely nothing.  This is radioactive, and nobody wants to get near these people!

But I found another interesting number.  Question: What is the cost of this march in Taiwan?  Answer: Nobody knows, but it is coming from somewhere.  TVBS (via Yahoo! News) went over the accounting for a legislator who organized people from his district in Keelung to attend the march.  Here are the numbers:

If there were 1 million out there, and the cost per person is NT$663, then the total cost would be a phenomenol NT$663 million.  But most of the marchers are probably from the City of Taipei and will not need to be transported by chartered bus.  So this average cost should not be applied to the 1 million figure of marchers.

Meanwhile Xinhua offered this estimate: "Organizers said it might take at least 80 million new Taiwan dollars (2.54 million US dollars) to mobilize the people to take to the streets in Taipei to protest against the Anti-Secession Law adopted by China's National People's Congress on March 14."  Since the source is Xinhua which is quoting unnamed organizers, this should be taken with a huge grain of salt.