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3 ways to look at August’s protests — and 2 charts showing all protests since January 2017

- November 12, 2018
Nia Evans of the National Women’s Law Center energizes demonstrators opposed to President  Trump’s then-Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, outside  the Supreme Court in Washington on Aug. 22. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

This is the 19th installment in a monthly series reporting on political crowds in the United States. Each month, the Crowd Counting Consortium will post updates about trends and patterns from the previous month. For our counting methods, please see our first post in the series. You can find the rest of the posts here.

For August, we tallied 573 protests, demonstrations, strikes, marches, sit-ins, rallies and walkouts in the United States, with at least one in every state and the District. This is a modest decline in the average number of events since Donald Trump took office.

Our conservative guess is that between 79,183 and 81,157 people showed up at these political gatherings, although it is likely there were more participants. Though slightly more people than in July, this number of participants is also on the low end in our monthly counts since January 2017.

We didn’t have participation estimates for 41.1 percent of the events in August. And because mainstream media often neglect to report nonviolent actions — especially small ones — we probably did not record every event that took place. Nevertheless, we think our tally gives us a useful pool of information to better understand political mobilization in the United States — particularly, how reports of crowds change from month to month.

1. The largest events

One way to picture a month of protest is by examining the largest events. Some scholars have argued that crowd sizes are more important than the number of events in defining how important a protest may be. The largest events we tallied were Trump campaign rallies of 13,500 and 10,000 in Evansville, Ind., and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., respectively. This month, 31 to 32 percent of the people we counted were at Trump/Pence rallies.

After that, we counted 16 protests ranging from 1,000 to “thousands.” While one was another Trump rally and two were protesting Trump visits, the rest covered a wide range of issues, including postal workers opposing privatization in Pittsburgh, a pro-gun-control rally in Newtown, Conn., a protest in West Lafayette, Ind., against sexual harassment, and political rallies in Niceville and Tampa in Florida.

2. The issues brought up at the most events

Another common way researchers gauge support for a particular issue or movement is to count the number of events organized around it. Most months we don’t have crowd size estimates for at least 30 percent of the protests we list, but the frequency may be as significant.

In August, we counted 139 protests against the appointment of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, many of them on Aug. 26, when a large number of groups, including MoveOn and NARAL, organized events. We also counted 55 anti-racism, Black Lives Matter and anti-hate demonstrations.

Four other issues more or less tied for second place. We counted 45 pro-labor demonstrations, 43 pro-immigration and anti-ICE events, 43 political rallies, and 40 pro-environment demonstrations. We found roughly the same number of protests in these same categories in July.

However, that doesn’t count campaign rallies, which our methods often are not picking up. Since this came during a hotly contested midterm election season, we strongly suspect there were more than 43 campaign rallies nationwide. We have been considering how to better pick up news of such events.

In all, we estimate that 78.7 percent of events were explicitly or implicitly anti-Trump, and that 7.7 percent were pro-Trump. In addition, 13.6 percent were neither in favor of nor against the president or his policies. Those included students protesting an art teacher’s firing in Virginia and Honolulu protesters decrying too much tourism and traffic at Laniakea Beach.

3. The geography of protest

A third way to look at August is by mapping where the protests took place. Florida led the pack with 51. California came in second with 43, followed by New York with 35 events, Pennsylvania and Washington with 29 each, Massachusetts and Texas with 27 each, North Carolina with 20, Colorado with 18, and three states with 17: Illinois, Michigan and Virginia.

Of the 25 largest cities in the United States, all except Memphis saw at least one demonstration in August.

4. How many people were arrested and/or injured in political crowds?

We counted four reported injuries in July. At about 545 events, or 95.1 percent of the total, no arrests were made in August, for a slightly lower proportion of arrest-free protests than in July. The number of people arrested declined from 352 in July to 290 in August, with at least 194 of those August arrests coming during 15 cases of nonviolent civil disobedience. The biggest single bloc of arrests came Aug. 1, when 74 people were arrested on Capitol Hill protesting Kavanaugh.

You can download the data here. We’ll release the data for September soon. In the meantime, we are still counting. Click here to submit information about a protest, and click here to volunteer to help us count. 

Jeremy Pressman is an associate professor of political science and director of Middle East Studies at the University of Connecticut. Find him on Twitter @djpressman.