• Thu
  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 1:34am
July 1 march
NewsHong Kong
POLITICS

SCMP study puts July 1 protest number at 140,000, well below organiser estimates

Computerised analysis commissioned by Post estimates just 140,000 people took part in July 1 march, well below organisers' 510,000 figure

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 July, 2014, 11:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 July, 2014, 11:22am
 

Poll

  • Organisers: 510,000: 46%
  • HKU POP: 154,000 - 172,000: 30%
  • SCMP study: 140,000: 17%
  • Police: 92,000: 7%
4 Jul 2014
  • Organisers: 510,000
  • HKU POP: 154,000 - 172,000
  • SCMP study: 140,000
  • Police: 92,000
Total number of votes recorded: 786

A study commissioned by the South China Morning Post estimates 140,000 people took part in the July 1 march.

The result - calculated through computerised area-density analysis - is similar to separate estimates by two University of Hong Kong academics but falls way below the organisers' figure of 510,000. The police did not offer a total but estimated the largest number of marchers at any one time at 98,600.

Watch: How we got our numbers for the July 1 march

The number of people taking part in the annual rally has always been controversial, with police, the organisers and academics releasing widely different figures.

The dispute this year is further complicated by the slower-than-usual pace of the procession. In 2004, it took a protester on average of 90 minutes to march from Victoria Park to Central. On Tuesday it took about three hours.

The Post commissioned chartered land surveyor Thomas Lee Wai-pang to provide an independent and alternative analysis. Lee and his team used "the density and area computation" method that has been used by other media organisations to calculate crowd size.

First, Lee measured the total area of the rally route, by using the Geographic Information System, to be 57,876 square metres.

Next he calculated the average density of the crowd by analysing photos taken by Post photographers at three different locations throughout the event. The photographers took pictures of the crowd at a near vertical angle from 30 metres above ground at locations in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Admiralty.

By analysing the photos with the satellite image analysis software, Lee was able to establish the average density of the crowd at the three locations at different times. Multiplying the average density with the total area of the route, he then calculated how many protesters were filling the entire 4km route when the people at the front reached the end.

To do this, three Post reporters were assigned to the task. The first left Victoria Park at the head of the crowd at 3.25pm. He reached the finish point in Chater Road in Central at 6.20pm. The second reporter then left Victoria Park and arrived in Chater Road at 10pm. By then, the third reporter, who was at the tail of the procession, was in Wan Chai. This means between 6.20pm and 10pm, only half of the route was completely occupied.

Based on the density, Lee calculated that 91,213 people had taken part in the rally between 3.30pm and 6.30pm, and 49,195 between 6.30pm and 10pm. The two batches add up to 140,408.

The result was surprisingly lower than the public perception. Most people believed Tuesday's crowd was comparable to that of 2003 or 2004, when half a million people took to street.

This could be partly due to the extremely slow pace of the rally and the crowd's unusually high density. The average density in Lee's past studies was 1 person per square metre, on Tuesday it was 1.4.

Police earlier accused the organisers of deliberately moving slowly, while they said the police caused a bottleneck by not opening more lanes for marchers.

"It was unfortunate the crowd moved too slowly. The slow pace might have discouraged some to stay on and finish the march, which could have lowered the turnout," said Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, a social statistics expert at the HKU.

The Post acknowledges some limitations in the study. Some marchers who joined or left the procession in the middle of the course may have been excluded for instance.

The stalls set up by different groups along Wan Chai and Causeway Bay also mean the actual route area could be smaller, suggesting the number of people could be even lower.

Yip said he found the Post's study was "sound" as it tried to capture the varying crowd sizes at different locations.

The Public Opinion Programme of the Hong Kong University refused to comment on the analysis.

Edward Tai Chit-fai, senior data analyst of the programme, said computer counting should be separately verified by manual counting.

Programme director Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu earlier put their estimate at between 154,000 and 172,000. Chung said his figures might not align with the public perception because people had been affected by "imprecise figures". He called on the organisers to conduct the estimate "scientifically".

The organiser, Civil Human Rights Front, welcomed other organisations to do their own counting.

"We believe our count is already a conservative estimate," said front convenor Johnson Yeung Ching-yin. "Some people might have left in the middle of the march and it is almost impossible to determine the number of these people."

The police yesterday refused to comment.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung, Fanny Fung and Emily Tsang

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This article is now closed to comments

53b625c6-e688-4f69-b873-743d0a320969
The huge population growth that push up HK housing price cannot be blamed on the government.
HK population grew from 4 million to 7 million now and housing price naturally will rise as demands rises.
XYZ
The Brave New World has arrived. Blatant censorship is now being practiced in this forum. Several of my comments on this thread, none of which was derogatory or profane, have been removed without explanation. Another sign of Hong Kong's slouching towards Gomorrah.
.
Farewell!
ejmciii
What is relevant is unsurprising. We want a say in our lives and the 30 pieces of silver offered for our obedience is not going to do it. HK wants to be a real place where our voice is heard. If China does not want to hear we cannot change that but we know HK will not be what it was, and folks and companies will drift to where makes sense, largely Singapore.
Carparklee
The next number on which the general public of Hong Kong would have doubt about ..... the so-called ~800k people claimed to have participated in the last 622 voting. Perhaps, the next investigation report subject for SCMP could be this 800k magic number. Ha!
req
****www.scmp.com/comment/polls/poll/1546292/which-estimate-do-you-think-most-accurate-july-1-march-turnout
See the results of the poll? Is this representative? I've been outvoted!
53b68133-357c-4b1b-a051-08e10a3209ca
Anyone logging in through Facebook can also vote. In a voting in Yahoo, they manage to rig three million votes.
req
grosvenor2007 - Great post!
"DEMOCRACY DOES NOT REPRESENT THE PEOPLE, its a biggest white lie of all times."
grosvenor2007
Its so sad that the pro-democracy people here are so brainwashed by violent and biased leftists and so focused on being anti-China that they've totally forgot the true meaning of being democratic; that is, if they really understand the concept.
I don't see how the agenda of the current democracy movement in HK is any different from the Communism movement in China in the past. They are both focused on lies and biases and manipulating the general public. These pro-democracy people are acting like they are in a cult, blindly believing their leaders without using logic.
felix.jt.yau
IMO, and that is a personal opinion, I agree. Many issues which can be isolated and dealt with separately without any repercussions to democracy in HK seems to all merge into one giant anti-establishment sentiment in the country. Sad Times.
blue
I know I've been a pro democracy blow hard the past couple of weeks. The white paper really hit a raw nerve with regard to stuff like how all judges are "administrators" and should be patriotic. But I personally don't trust the Civil Human Rights Front numbers. They have a bias, and they're not using any scientific method of counting.

I trust the HKU results personally. I find the SCMP results acceptable too.

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