Donald Trump gave his first rally in months at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, capacity 19,199. Despite a million signups, only 6,200 people showed up. Various folks blamed everyone from young people on TikTok to media-inflamed fear of the virus for the low turnout. So let’s examine what really happened, and what it means.
Did a million people sign up?
Spokespeople for the Trump reelection campaign, including the president himself, claimed that a million people signed up. Here’s a compilation of them saying that:
What’s the meaning of a million signups?
- Did a million people actually sign up to go to the rally? No. The campaign encouraged people to sign up but did not verify of they were coming, or even ask if they were coming. A million people clicked on a form.
- Did TikTok folks and K-Pop stans (fans of Korean popular music) inflate the numbers? Posts encouraging young people to flood the form with fake requests spread rapidly. Here’s an example, viewed 2 million times. So clearly, there were a lot of fake requests. However, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale downplayed the fake requests, saying “Registering for a rally means you’ve RSVPed with a cellphone number and we constantly weed out bogus numbers, as we did with tens of thousands at the Tulsa rally, in calculating our possible attendee pool.” Even assuming this is true, many young people have cell phones, or could enter cell phone numbers of others. I’d bet a lot of the signups were not actual Trump fans.
- Were the Trump campaign people fooled by the number of signups? Definitely. They had erected an outdoor stage for a second Trump appearance to an overflow crowd. The campaign would never have done that unless they expected more people than the stadium could hold.
- Did the flood of fake requests cause the low turnout? Unlikely. Why would you fail to go to a rally you expected to be crowded, based on past events? While the fake requests inflated the estimates, it’s hard to see how they would impact the actual attendance.
- Is the data that the Trump campaign collected useless? It’s problematic. On June 14, a week before the event, Brad Parscale tweeted that the large number of signups was the “Biggest data haul and rally signup of all time by 10x.” So he apparently believed the data is useful. If there really are anywhere close to a million actual Trump fans who signed up, it is valuable. But if many of those are fake, then the campaign will waste resources trying to find them, identify if they are in swing states, and get them to vote. The signup form didn’t ask if the people signing up were 18 or older, so there is no way to know if they are even adults, let alone registered voters. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) says that companies must obtain consent from parents or guardians when collecting information online from children under 13, and prohibits companies from disclosing or selling the data to third parties. That could make it hard to use this data for soliciting votes for president or other down-ballot races. Legally, Trump’s campaign may need to dump all the data anyway.
What caused the low turnout?
Why did only 6,200 people show up, according to the fire marshall’s estimates of attendance? “Why” questions are always hard to answer, but all of these reasons are possible:
- Trump’s appeal is waning. He’s been doing the same act for five years. Maybe people are getting tired of it, or have lost faith in him. If you believe the polls, this is certainly plausible.
- People were afraid of getting infected. Pulling a large number of people together in a shared space certainly creates a risk of a “superspreader” event, in which one or more infectious people, who may not even have symptoms, infect many others breathing the same air. Activities at a rally, such as shouting, increase the chances of spread, and few people at the rally were wearing masks. Maybe, despite statement from Trump that the risk is waning, some of his people are still afraid.
- Protests scared people away. There were few protestors at the event, and no violence. While Brad Parscale reported that protestors were blocking entrances — and apparently one entrance was closed for a few minutes — AP journalists on the scene for hours ahead of and during the event “did not see protesters block entry to the area where the rally was held.” More to the point, if thousands of people were denied entry, they’d have to be milling around the event in the hours leading up to it, but there were no crowds and no activity during that time period.
If few people are excited enough to show up at his rallies, and his supporters don’t believe his statements about it being safe to attend, that’s bad news for the future of Trump’s movement. They can blame whomever they want. If they don’t show up for rallies, will they show up to vote?