Washington Mall Photos
January 21, 2017 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I saw the aerial photo taken by the U.S. Park Service which showed the difference in the number of attendees of the 2009 Obama inauguration and the 2017 Trump inauguration. President Trump was enthusiastically supported, as was President Obama. Why the stark difference?

The number of protestors seemed to be large as well which diminishes the number of supporters even more. What about this photo or its circumstances is not obvious?
posted by CollectiveMind to Society & Culture (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
With as little bias as I can possibly muster:

Obama had 9 million more popular votes than Trump. Trump's approval rating on Inauguration day was 40, the lowest in US history and half of what Obama's was. Trump is literally just another white guy in a string of 43 other white guys; Obama's election was historic.

With bias:

Buyer's remorse.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:27 PM on January 21, 2017 [86 favorites]

Obama started office with a 78% approval rating, while Trump began with 37% (cite: Gallup, poll conducted January 4-8th, 2017). Both were not "strongly supported" by the American public. As the Gallup poll cited states:

- Trump has a historically low approval rating for an incoming president. Of the four most recent incoming presidents, Trump is the only president-elect whose unfavorable rating outweighs his favorable score.
- While the large majority of Republicans (82%) hold a favorable opinion of President-elect Trump, that is lower than favorable ratings prior presidents have enjoyed among members of their own party at this point in their ascension to the White House.

So: Trump is not enthusiastically supported, not even by members of his own party. He also lost the popular vote by just under 3 million votes. This, by and large, accounts for the poor turnout at his inauguration.
posted by sockermom at 12:29 PM on January 21, 2017 [24 favorites]

Also, Obama's numbers were off the charts for these things. He is such an outlier that comparing Trump to literally any other president would be much more fair to Trump. By that standard, he did okay if you're using the 200,000 number.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:32 PM on January 21, 2017 [9 favorites]

A lot of people voted for and supported Trump who admitted that they didn't think he'd win and didn't want him to win. If you feel like this current moment doesn't make sense so you must be missing something, rest assured it doesn't make sense to anyone else either.
posted by bleep at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2017 [17 favorites]

Trump supporters on Facebook seem to be saying that the inauguration photo was taken either before or after the actual inauguration, and so is misleading. I have not gone digging for timestamps to see whether or not this is true.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:44 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Local support for Trump is weak. Clinton got 93% of the vote in DC, 66% of the vote in the NoVA suburbs, and 73% of the vote in the Maryland suburbs. Some people travel for inauguration, but it is much easier to attend if you live nearby. My county didn't even close school on Friday (unlike for Obama's inaugurations), knowing that a significant number of kids wouldn't be attending (though you could have an excused absence).
posted by candyland at 12:46 PM on January 21, 2017 [22 favorites]

Trump supporters on Facebook seem to be saying that the inauguration photo was taken either before or after the actual inauguration, and so is misleading. I have not gone digging for timestamps to see whether or not this is true.

According to something I saw on Facebook (so whatever that's worth, but as much as the opinion of Trump supporters on Facebook in any case), the 2009 photo was about 11.20 am and the photo from yesterday was about 11.10am. So not quite the same time, but it's doubtful 10 minutes makes that much difference.
posted by hoyland at 12:47 PM on January 21, 2017 [16 favorites]

I agree that it's better to compare with pre-Obama presidents.

But weather is a factor also when comparing other white guys. George W. Bush's first inauguration featured a cold rain which drove people away who showed up. His second was a sunny day and not especially cold.

Reagan's first inauguration was balmy and springlike. It was also the first on the the West Front of the Capitol. His second was an outlier because of the frigid temperatures. Worse than frigid!

Jimmy Carter's (my first) was cold but sunny; however it was on the East Front of the Capitol. I don't remember if there were jumbo screens on the Mall, although I am pretty sure there were loudspeakers.

Bush 41 (my main inauguration) would be the best comparison, I think, because the weather was similar and it was held on the West Front.
posted by jgirl at 12:56 PM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

On the other hand, though, 41 had more overall and local support than Trump.

But I am sure you could find photos and compare.
posted by jgirl at 1:01 PM on January 21, 2017

I don't think weather can explain it. I went to the 2009 inauguration and it was the coldest I've ever been (and I lived in MN! But 8 hours outside in the windy cold is bone-chilling). People waited in line for 6-7 hours in really cold weather to get in. Also, so many people travel for inaugurations - if you've already flown in, or spent 10 hours on a bus, you're not going to stay home because it's raining.

And the 10 minutes of time difference means nothing. Again, people in 2009 got there 6 hours before things even opened! I don't think even 2 hours of time difference would explain it.
posted by lunasol at 1:10 PM on January 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

I can't find it right now, but to the 'this photo was taken at a different time!' there were folks on twitter with a picture at 11.40am as well to show, nope this is actually a Thing.

[When that got no traction, the ol' 'well Republicans have JOBS!']
posted by honey-barbara at 1:28 PM on January 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

2009 was very cold, but it was historic because it was Obama. Look at weather for the white guys, except for Reagan's second. :::shivers remembering it:::
posted by jgirl at 1:34 PM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

The number of protestors seemed to be large as well which diminishes the number of supporters even more.

We're more than 24 hours post-event and the amount of evidence to support this has been negligible, if not zero. The video taken along the parade route supports this as well.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:40 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Obama was the first black president. He was elected on a platform of, among other things, hope. This was a hugely historic occasion and for many people, people of color especially but also anyone who had been supporting civil rights and the decades upon decades of struggles of people of color, this was a once-in-a-lifetime, waited-all-my-life, finally-NOW_damnit sort of thing. Current POTUS is someone who isn't even liked very much within his own party. Even people who can get behind some of his platform aren't on board with a lot of his showmanship and the inauguration was specifically about showmanship.

Many people will make more of an effort if they think they're going to be part of history. Witness the Women's March attendance today. Obama's inauguration was historic in a week the other one wasn't
posted by jessamyn at 1:47 PM on January 21, 2017 [14 favorites]

Trump lost the popular vote very badly and has a very low approval rating. Even a lot of Congresspeople decided not to show. He had fewer/smaller inaugural balls than usual. It was expected that this inauguration would be exceptionally poorly attended, and it was.

Re: comparison with George W.

GWB lost the popular vote in the 2000 election, so there were pretty massive protests at his first inauguration -- I was there as a protester. In my perception/memory, the bleachers at that inauguration were near-empty and most of the ostensible attendees were actually protestors, not supporters.

In contrast to GWB, the protests against Trump's inauguration took place the following day, so there were probably fewer protestors to swell his "attendee" numbers.

Obama is a completely different scenario IMO, because he won the popular vote both times he was elected -- unlike either Bush or Trump. Since he was elected democratically, there was much less reason to protest his inauguration. He also quantifiably had more people who supported his presidency than either GWB or DT did. Even if his inaugurations hadn't been historic, he logically should have had more supporters and fewer protestors in attendance at them, simply because he won both his elections.
posted by rue72 at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

One visual thing I noticed:

The grounds at Obama's inauguration were grass/bare ground. The crowds pretty much destroyed the turf in 2009, so this year the Park Service put down the white panels to keep people from stepping directly on the grass. Interesting article about that!

When you're looking at an aerial shot of the inaugurations, I think that the empty white is much more visually arresting than, say, a spot of empty grass/bare ground.

Of course, there's also fewer people there. I'm just speaking about the backgrounds being different: a blank expanse of white vs. ground cover, which tends to blend in and fill in with people's coats and hats and stuff.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:45 PM on January 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

To be snarky but accurate, Obama was the first African American elected whereas we've had plenty of rich assholes before. More people are going to show up for a historic event.
posted by Candleman at 4:00 PM on January 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Lots of people voted against Clinton rather than for Trump. There are lots of people who voted for Trump that don't necessarily regret their decision, but also aren't exactly enthusiastic about him as President.
posted by Betelgeuse at 4:22 PM on January 21, 2017 [6 favorites]

Press secretary Sean Spicer noted the same ground cover effect as Elly Vortex did above, as he denied the low crowd turnout (and passed on taking questions) during a yell-y press briefing earlier today.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 7:31 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

DC Metro has announced that there were 1.1 million riders for Obama 2009, 782K riders for Obama 2013, and 570.5K riders for Trump 2017.

So unless 500,000 riders were turned away by angry protestors at remote Metro stops, they either had some other way into the city that nobody can confirm, or they stayed home.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:33 PM on January 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

An extra factor that ties into some of the points above, Obama was so charismatic that his own party "skipped ahead" in the putative order of succession to give him the nomination instead of Clinton. Whereas Trump is so anti-charismatic his own party started breaking their "thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" rule.
posted by traveler_ at 7:34 PM on January 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am not a Trump supporter nor would I deny that the crowds were thinner, but I do think the white covers on the ground (which were needed to protect the grass, recently resodded) made it a lot more *obvious* in the pictures.

Trump is going to have to learn what battles to fight, but that's probably a lost cause.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:58 PM on January 21, 2017

The panels covering the grass on the national mall were also used for the 2013 inauguration.
posted by Snerd at 9:19 PM on January 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Can anyone point me to a photo or photos the Republicans are pointing to to support their number claims?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:29 PM on January 21, 2017

CNN seems to debunk most of the objections concerning the inauguration that were raised by Trump's press secretary: Sean Spicer slams media over inauguration crowd coverage.

But CNN is "fake news", so, whatever.
posted by chillmost at 12:20 AM on January 22, 2017

Can anyone point me to a photo or photos the Republicans are pointing to to support their number claims?

On phone so no linky, but so far throughout reddit & Twitter Trump-supporter objections rest on 1) the debunked claim that the time of the photos was drastically different and 2) photos taken from behind Trump, thus at a much lower angle so the photo only captures the area directly in front, which is packed. Perspective is hard, I guess. . . .

They keep repeating these "proofs" regardless of how many times they get disproven - really, find almost any Twitter thread that posts the '09 or '13 inaugural photo and sooner or later a Trumpster will pop up with one or more of their photos.

As far as what's coming out of the official administration mouthpieces, I think that's just "Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" bullshitting.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:49 AM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can anyone point me to a photo or photos the Republicans are pointing to to support their number claims?

The main photo that pops up in their claims is this one, although it was taken from the opposite direction (behind the capitol steps) and does indeed show a large crowd near the front of the proceedings. It's hard, however, to see how many people are at the back of the Mall.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:08 AM on January 22, 2017

taken from the opposite direction (behind the capitol steps) and does indeed show a large crowd near the front of the proceedings. It's hard, however, to see how many people are at the back of the Mall

...unlike the Washington Monument POV photos, in which dense crowds near the steps are clearly visible in both photos but only the one of Obama's inauguration also shows dense crowds all the way back.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 AM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Trump was not broadly (enthusiastically) supported, is the main thing. He won the Electoral College because the Electoral College gives extra weight to mostly empty land (where conservatives tend to sort themselves) and discounts cities (where liberals happen to sort themselves). Due to the nature of that sorting it's easy to think that everyone everywhere else is just like the people you see around you, but this is a faulty assumption.

Clinton won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College, arguably because she also lacked broad, enthusiastic support. It has become clear that the election was swung largely because of the combination of FBI statements and Russian influence on the popular perception of her, and it seems unlikely the swing would have had the same effect if her support were more enthusiastic and not just concentrated in cities. If Clinton had won, however, it is likely that the crowd for the inauguration would have resembled the crowd for the Women's March, because some people would have traveled for it and more locals would have made the effort.
posted by fedward at 2:56 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have to agree that Drumpf was "enthusiastically" supported by a much smaller number of people than Obama. Drumpf's 32% approval rating is dismal and combined with the left lean of the District and its suburbs, I don't think its surprising (although gratifying) that the turnout on Friday was meager, especially in comparison to 2009 when actual history was being made.

The protestors on the day of the Inauguration were slightly larger than in previous years, but they were not on the Mall and had only little effect on the ability of people to get to the Inauguration. Most protestors were at the security checkpoints outside the Mall or were along the streets of the parade route (also not on the Mall).

Just to reinforce what others have said: the white panels to protect the grass were also used in 2013 (when I believe about 900,000 people watched the 2nd Obama Inauguration). Interestingly, this year, there was a complex of tents around 11th St, marking the back of the viewing area. They were not there in 2009, when the crowds stretched well past 17th St (ask me how I know!)

Apparently because of the cloud cover on Friday and Saturday there aren't any satellite images, so the high angle photos are from from the top of the Washington Monument and due to the angle, they generally don't show the space west of 11th St to the base of the Monument (which was filled in 2009 and empty this year). The crowd this year barely reached half way down the Mall, let alone to the "back".

One more data point, i read that in 2009 10,000 charter busses brought people into DC for the Inauguration. This year: 250.
posted by jindc at 2:06 PM on January 23, 2017

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