July 1 Afternoon March Estimates

Of course, this is my specialty (see The Hong Kong 7/1 March: Crowd Size Estimates for last year).  Here is the summary of the situation at midnight:

In time, we will undoubtedly hear about how the 45,000 number precipitously fell down to 21,000.  The organizers ran their own count, but they used the methodology of a Hong Kong University team.  The actual counting was done by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, and there was an independent count done by HKU student researchers.  Perhaps the official designated counters told the CHRF in no uncertain terms that they counted 21,000 and that they will go public with that figure and it is likely that HKU POP will come up with the same numbers.  

The organizers had insisted that there were 530,000 people out there last year.  So 21,000 is about 4% of last year's number.  But as horrible as this was, the organizers really had no choice but to issue the revision.  In the meantime, let me count the damage for you on all the mainstream media in the western world that bought into the initial 45,000 figure.  We will wait with abated breath to see if any will retract the original figure.  I expect that nothing will be done.  Maybe that is why the 45,000 figure was thrown out there, because there is the universal recognition that revision as respect to the truth is not a habit in the western media world.  Here are the misquotes:

This is how things were at midnight.  This post will undoubtedly be updated when the details of the counting processes are revealed.  Meanwhile, let us track carefully who will revise and who won't ...

Update on July 3 midnight:  Only AFP and the revised AP report got the right 21,000 number.  Overall, the western coverage of the event was extremely sparse compared to 2003 and 2004 (nothing in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, etc).  When people march for democracy, the western media hype it up.  When people don't show, it is suddenly not newsworthy.  By inference, one has to conclude that the western media is agenda-driven and, as well, not especially interested in the truth as the above showed.

Here are the reports on the numbers the next day, and the various explanations and reactions in Hong Kong media as to why the 45,000 had to be revised down to 21,000.

(Ming Pao via Yahoo! News)

[translation]  The Civil Human Rights Front is holding an informal meeting to discuss the third annual July 1 march held last Friday.  Apart from letting the core members express their thoughts, the inevitable question would be how to deal with the number of marchers. 

So far, the the Civil Human Rights Front has held three July 1 marches.  The first one in 2003 drew 500,000 people out on the streets and successfully stopped the Article 23 legislation, thus making the Front heroes to the people.  Last year, the number dropped as the academic community said that the number of marchers was around 200,000 but the core members of the Civil Human Rights Front insisted that there were 530,000, 'breaking' the preceding year's record.  As a result, the front was heavily criticized for "exaggeration" and "dishonesty."

This year, the Civil Human Rights Front is facing a calmer social atmosphere.  Under these circumstances, the number of marchers dropped drastically.  Actually, everybody realized that, so the numbers do not mean too much.  The Front asked the Professional Teachers Union to conduct the count, and the final number was 21,000, which was close to the numbers from Hong Kong University and the police department.  One would think that the Civil Human Rights Front has turned over a new leaf and become more realistic and pragmatic.

Unfortunately, perhaps because the Civil Human Rights Front lost out to the pro-government parade in terms of the attendance counts, this pragmatic approach towards counting has upset certain extreme elements in the march.  In their opinion, the Civil Human Rights Front is too conservative and do not understand the key in political movement.

Leung Kwok-hung of the April 5 Movement, a member of the Civil Human Rights Front, fired the first salvo and accused the Front of "under-reporting".  He believes that the July 1 march had at least 30,000.  The April 5 Movement collected 80,000 dollars in contribution in Wanchai.  He said that Robert Chung's HKU student team only counted people at Wanchai, and they should have counted also at Causeway Bay, Wanchai and Central in order to accurately come up with the number of people.  He said that he iis collecting on how various countries around the world count the number of people and he will disclose that information to the public soon.

Since public opinion seems to sway one way and then other, the core members of the Civil Human Rights Front appear to be somewhat lost.  Should they act honestly, or should they suitably "over-state" the number of marchers in order to please the participants?  How are they supposed to run a political movement?

[Comment:  Perhaps the lesson from 2004 had not sunk in yet -- claiming a stratospheric number without any basis allowed the discussion to be hijacked.  You want to talk about freedom and democracy; but your audience and the media preferred to ask you once again about that ridiculous number instead.  If the CHRF had stuck to the 45,000 number, it will be death by a thousand nicks once again.  

But of course it is eye-opening for people to state publicly that the politically mature approach is to claim a stratospheric number in order the please the participants!  It is acceptable, even essential, to lie this way because your core listeners will like it!  Remember the names of those politicians and never ever trust anything that they ever say again!]

[SCMP]  July 1 march organiser sticks with 21,000 tally.  By Ambrose Leung.  July 5, 2005.

The organiser of the July 1 march sees no need to revise its estimated turnout of 21,000, despite discontent from marchers who said it was inaccurate.

Civil Human Rights Front convenor Chong Yiu-kwong admitted the way the figure was announced had been unsatisfactory but stood firm on the figure itself.  "Perhaps we should have waited for the Professional Teachers Union to finish their headcount before we announced the final figure. If we didn't do it well this time, we will do better next time," he said.

Members of the union had been asked to count the number of people marching.  Because of a misunderstanding, the front announced before the march was over that 45,000 had taken part. It later revised the figure to 21,000.

(Ming Pao via Yahoo! News)  The quality of the democracy based upon how the number of marchers was handled.  Yip Sui-fei.  July 14, 2005.

[The author is a senior lecturer in the Hong Kong University Department of Statistical and Actuarial Sciences.

[translation]  The counting of the number of marchers is not simply a problem of "counting the number of bodies."  It involves the selection of a model that included population movement, and that is a specialized subject in the biological sciences.  This author and a group of graduate and undergraduate students have conducted in-depth research studies of the number of marchers on July 1 the last three years.  Our goal was to implement the theory for society to see, and to address the public's concerns and misunderstandings about the number of marchers.

Over the past three years, our group set up two counting stations, one near the Causeway Bay Electronics City (near the Victoria Park starting point) and the other at the pedestrian overpass near Tai Koo Plaza in Admiralty (and near the Government House).  At each counting station, we had 3 workers who counted the number of marchers independently.  Furthermore, for the purpose of estimating the number of people who joined or left the march midway, we conducted a sample survey at the second counting station by asking "Did you start from Victoria Park for the march?"  This formed the basis for estimating the number of marchers.

If the response to the survey question was 100% "Yes", then this means that everyone who passed through the second counting station passed through the first counting station as well.  If the response is 0% "Yes", then this means that everyone who passed through the first counting station left before the second station, and so the total number of marchers is the sum of the counts from both stations.

At this year's July 1 march, the group counted 16,800 and 16,900 respectively at the Causeway Bay and Admiralty counting stations.  We obtained more than 100 respondents for the intercept survey study at Admiralty, of which 94% said that they started at Victoria Park.  In other words, 6% of the people joined the march somewhere between the first and second counting station, and this is smaller than the 23% at last year's march.  The total number of marchers is therefore estimated as the sum of the number of marchers at Causeway Bay plus 6% of the number of marchers at Admiralty.  That is, 16,800 + 16,900 x 0.06 = 17,800 approximately.

This calculation does not include:
1. The people who departed from Victoria Park, but left before Causeway Bay.
2. The pepole who joined after the first counting station and left before the second counting station.
3. The people who joined after the Admiralty counting station.

From the personal observations of the group members, the march was orderly and smooth.  We believe that the number of people in these three groups could not be very high.  We estimate the sampling error around our estimate to be around plus or minus 800.  Overall, our estimate is very close to the police estimate.

This year, the organizers estimated 21,000 people marched.  The police estimated 17,000.  Our estimate was 18,000 and quite close.  If everybody now considers that during the past two years, the numbers between the organizers and the police were off by a factor of two to three times, then this deserves some attention.  The police did not obviously change their methodology of counting over the past 3 years, but the organizers voluntarily changed their methodology of counting this year and then the difference in the results was obvious.

All along, everybody has been skeptical about the estimates from the organizers and the police.  People often think that the former overstates while the latter understates, and some people even think that the average of the two is closer to the truth.  In truth, the fact that the organizers decided to choose a pragmatic approach this year was a vast improvement as they counted the number of marchers in a scientific and independent manner.  They were able to rebut the criticisms about under-claiming which have no basis, and this was a responsible way to act.  By comparison, the attitude of some people who 'estimated' the number of marchers based upon their personal intuition and then criticized the organizers in unreasonable ways because they feel that must always fight or that they possessed the truth was quite disappointing.

For the 2003 and 2004 July 1 marches, the police estimates were quite close to the estimates obtained by our group.  This year, the organizers had an estimate close to the estimates from the police and academic researchers.  This fact will allow certain people to forget about the uncalled-for conspiracy theory and consider the police methodology in a more open and considered manner that is consistent with democratic principles.

The road for the democratic movement in Hong Kong is long.  The number of marchers should not be regarded as the sole indicator for the desire of the people of Hong Kong for democracy, and this is something that the organizers, the Hong Kong government and the Chinese central government should be keenly aware of.  Yet, from this matter, we can see that the different ways in which the number of marchers were handled have shown everybody that the quality of democracy has risen up this year.  So we hope that we can all continue to work together to improve the quality of our democracy and create a bright future for Hong Kong.

(SCMP)  Mock referendum biased: academics.  By Klaudia Lee.  July 24, 2005.

The results of a mock referendum on universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008 are biased, academics monitoring it said yesterday.  However, they said the exercise had achieved its educational aims.  Both the academics and the referendum organiser, the Civil Human Rights Front, said it could pave the way for future referendums conducted by the government or an impartial non-governmental body.

The mock referendum, conducted by the front, which also organised the July 1 rally, found more than 98 per cent of 7,725 people who cast votes supported universal suffrage to elect the chief executive in 2007 and the legislature in 2008.  But the independent "observers' report" released yesterday found that the lack of resources and proper venues "had severely handicapped the operation of the mock referendum" as only a limited portion of the general public could vote.

"Moreover, since the mock referendum was organised by a political group which also organised the July 1 rally, and in the same venue as that of the rally, it naturally attracted people who supported the motions. These factors caused biases," the report said.

The report, complied by Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, associate professor of the Hong Kong Baptist University's department of government and international studies, and Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme, outlined 11 shortcomings and strengths of the exercise.  The report found the "yes" vote was 24 to 30 per cent over-represented, and the "no" vote under-represented by eight to 12 per cent.  Despite this, Dr Chan and Dr Chung said a POP survey conducted after the referendum found that the results of the mock referendum were "in line with the patterns of public opinions towards democratic reforms."

The front issued a report in which they denied the exercise was a "small-circle election", saying they welcomed anybody to cast their votes no matter which view they held. It also showed they spent $55,483 - $10,467 less than $65,950 they initially collected - on the exercise.