Our Views: Crowds as spin machines

When Slate political reporter David Weigel recently listed 10 important articles for explaining the results of the recent presidential election, a blog essay by Baton Rouge’s Robert Mann was in the mix.

Mann, an author and journalist who teaches at LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, writes about politics for a number of national publications, as well as his blog, “Something Like The Truth,” at http://bobmannblog.com. His essay on the use of crowd size in gauging a campaign’s appeal was among the articles Weigel highlighted as suggested reading for the nation’s political junkies.

In “Beware the Crowdsmanship: When it comes to campaign rallies, does size matter?” Mann took issue with the view that apparently large crowds at campaign events are a solid sign of momentum for a candidate.

Mann posted his essay on Oct. 29, as the presidential campaigns of both GOP nominee Mitt Romney and incumbent Barack Obama were suggesting that enthusiastic crowds for their respective candidates were a sign of growing support.

“Crowdsmanship (exaggerating the size and meaning of rally crowds) is an age-old ritual in presidential races near the end, when crowds often do grow in size and intensity,” Mann told readers.

“Campaign spokespeople then develop — or spin — the growing size of their rallies into a narrative about a groundswell of support for their candidate. And the reporters following them often adopt these narratives.”

But as Mann notes, many losing contenders for the White House, including Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern and Michael Dukakis, attracted large crowds of supporters in the final days of their campaigns.

“Clearly, the campaign rally as a motivation and ... media device isn’t going anywhere. ... But the fact remains that the size of a rally is not always a good indicator of momentum, Mann notes. Larger crowds don’t always translate into larger Election Day victories.”

Despite Mann’s words of caution, we suspect this kind of political spin will endure in presidential campaigns of the future — and that it will be practiced by both Democrats and Republicans.

Crowdsmanship, it turns out, has enduring bipartisan appeal.