How many people at the Workers’ Party rally in Serangoon?

According to the Straits Times’ election website,

The turnout for WP’s Thursday rally, its first for this election, was estimated by observers to be over 20,000 people.

— Straits Times GE2011 website, 29 April 2011, Shanmugam says WP rally crowd ‘not unusual’, Link.

This would be the rally on Hougang field on 28 April 2011, for which there are plenty of pictures now circulating on the web. I wasn’t there but “over 20,000” is very far off what the number looks to be from the photos.

Before the Straits Times does another dampener on another Workers’ Party rally, this one held at Serangoon Stadium on Friday 29 April, let’s  do a simple exercise to estimate numbers ourselves.

(The picture above of the Serangoon rally is stitched from several photos; click on it for a larger version)

To determine the number of people, we need to know only two starting numbers:

1.  The area in square metres,

2.  The density of people.

Even so, it is difficult if density varies from one part to another, but in the confined space of Serangoon Stadium, density was relatively even throughout. People squeezed in until the place could hardly accommodate any more, inserting themselves into any available space.

To determine the area, Google maps is extremely useful since it has a scale over the satellite image.

The image above is that of Serangoon Stadium. I drew in a white rectangle to show where the stage was, and marked out the dimensions from one edge of the crowd to the other.

The area is thus 130m x 160 m = 20,800 square metres, though we need to subtract a bit away because of the rounded corners at the northern end. Let’s say, the area that people filled is about 19,000 square metres.

The density on the bleaches is quite easy to tell just by looking. People were sitting shoulder to shoulder and about 1 metre behind each other. The density is therefore about 2 persons per square metre. You can see a bit of the stands towards the end of this 33-second video.

However, the bleaches (under the roof in the satellite photo) make up less than 10 percent of the total area. The great majority of the people in the stadium were standing on the field. What was the density there?

Here’s a telephoto picture of a spot roughly in Location D:

And here’s another picture, this time of Location E:

As you can see, the back of the stadium, furthest from the stage, was just as crowded as the middle, if not even more so, because it was closer to an entrance and people were wiggling their way in. As for the front, nearest the stage, it was too far for me to take a density check picture. But we can safely assume it was packed crazy out there.

What do you think the density is in the two pictures above? It looks to me to be at least 2 persons per square metre, possibly even 2.5 persons. It may even be 3 persons per square metre in the lower of the two pictures.

Multiply the area by density, and you’ll have the total number in the stadium. If you use 2 persons per square metre as average density, the total crowd would be 38,000. If you use 2.5 persons per square metre, the total would be 48,000. If you use 3 persons per square metre, the total would be 57,000 — but this, in my view is on the high side.

* * * * *

Virtually all of them in the stadium were opposition sympathisers. With such a crowd, does it indicate a likely victory for the Workers’ Party in Aljunied constituency?

Bear in mind, many of the people at the rally came from other parts of Singapore. If the crowd was drawn randomly from among all Singaporean voters, then only 6.1 percent of the number in the stadium would have been actual Aljunied voters. This is because the 143,148 voters in Aljunied make up 6.1 percent of the total 2,350,873 voters in Singapore for this election.

But let’s say Aljunied voters were over-represented at the rally. At the low end, we can assume that they made up twice their normal weightage, i.e. 12.2 percent; at the high end, we’ll assume they made up four times their normal weightage. Then, if we use the middle figure of 48,000 people in the stadium, only 5,800 to 11,700 of those at the rally were really Aljunied voters.

That’s not a big chunk of Aljunied voters. That’s only 4 to 8 percent of the 143,148 who will cast their ballots in that constituency next week. In other words, however enthusiastic the people were at the rally, it really says very little about how the vote will turn out in that constituency.

42 Responses to “How many people at the Workers’ Party rally in Serangoon?”

  1. 1 ToShan 30 April 2011 at 03:20

    YB, you constantly amaze me.

    Excellent piece of guesstimation

  2. 2 yuenchungkwong 30 April 2011 at 03:33

    in the 2006 election the PAP vote was harmed by George Yeo’s harping on James Gomesh (presumably due to order from above – his demeanour gave me the impression he would prefer to talk about other things); this factor is absent in 2011, but WP is fielding a more impressive team; I would guess these factors roughly cancel out; what is harder to judge is the impact of the various social and economic issues that turned more negative during the past 5 years; in any case, the PAP and WP support percentages ought to be close and there are around 70K likely WP voters in Aljunid; so your estimate
    says around 10-15% of them went to the rally

    however, participants at opposition party rallies include young Aljunid people below 21 and curious Aljunid PAP voters (who like to hear something different from what they already know); I would guess their total at the rally to be comparable to Aljunid opposition supporters and estimate the number of Aljunid residents at the rally to be much higher than the 6k to 12K Aljunid opposition voters presence that you estimate

  3. 3 ThePasserby 30 April 2011 at 04:14

    Likewise, the poor turnout at PAP rallies doesn’t mean that they will lose votes to the Opposition either, sadly. I know of a few people who truly aren’t affected by crowded trains or over-priced HDB flats and believe it when MM Lee says “don’t rock the boat”. They won’t be bothered to attend any rallies, but come Polling Day, they’ll simply vote PAP.

    I hope I’m wrong.

    • 4 Cory 30 April 2011 at 15:20

      Totally. Those friends on my Facebook who speak up in favour of the PAP tend to be those who come from higher-income families who are living comfortable lives. These people won’t bother to attend any rallies since their mind is already made up.

  4. 5 Gazebo 30 April 2011 at 04:19

    haha YB, you would ace a management consultancy case interview. haha.

    but you are right — i am not sure if the numbers mean anything at all. election rallies are as i said before, just family outings.

  5. 6 Chaikin 30 April 2011 at 04:36

    Your calculations are fair enough. For me, the sheet numbers of non-constituency types who turn up at rallies like these tells another story – people came to hear things which they already know but did not express, to hear things which they have been hearing at the hawker centres and at the office water fountain. These are pictures of a people who have been feeling helpless and look to such occasions for releasing the internal anger and tension. These are pictures which will inspire them on how to vote back in their respective constituiencies.

  6. 7 Bewildered Foreigner 30 April 2011 at 08:38

    Alex, why so critical?

    Isn’t it great to see the political awakening of especially the younger generation?
    I watched the rally live via the webcast. I felt the rally was great with good speakers, especially Pritam Singh.
    We all don’t know what the election result will be like but it is great to see a ‘swing mood’. People can be swayed by such moods.

  7. 8 leo 30 April 2011 at 10:27

    the print edition of straits times described yesterday’s crowd at WP’s Serangoon Stadium rally as “a huge crowd”. how’s that for vagueness.

  8. 9 Tan Tai Wei 30 April 2011 at 12:28

    Have you taken account of those who could not enter or didn’t want to enter? The outside road and grass slopes surrounding the stadium were also densely filled.

    And what about those who were squeezed- seated filling all available spaces in the roofed gallery round one side of the field?

    I was there early and went quite near to the platform. Then I felt I might need the toilet. Afraid that the crowd was too tight for me to get out should I need to hurry, I started squeezing my way out. I had often to rub bodies along the step-by-step measured a way out. At the gate, I had to squeeze against the horde trying to push in.

    Outside at last, and feeling reassured, I joined the crowds beyond the stadium fencing, and – with regard to your point that not all who attended would vote against PAP – I should report that I found myself standing next to former PAP MP Lawrence Sia, or at least his look-alike.

  9. 10 Winningafight 30 April 2011 at 13:32

    Aljunied will likely be won by Workers Party if the following are done in next few days:
    1. Momentum on new media of sms, youtube, facebook, emails, etc is build up and fully taken advantage of by every supporter to encourage their family members, friends, colleagues, relatives, clan members, etc. It is about getting every possible single vote to trump the onslaught of the ruling party, its money, its power, its dominance, its carrots, its sticks, its “states” times, etc.
    2. Ground work to cover every single household in Aljunied by party supporters and candidates are also needed.
    The focus on broad policies and big rallies are good, but detail ground execution targeted at every single Aljunied voter is going to make the key difference. Connection through communications.

  10. 11 Rabbit 30 April 2011 at 13:33

    How the votes will turn depend on the kind of desperate choice of words used by PAP ministers and LKY in this coming week. I happened to grab Yahoo news and was anguish that LKY have applied a very strong threatening statement to Aljunied Residents that they will “PAY A PRICE” from him if they voted for opposition parties. I wonder what “PAY A PRICE” mean to the people. It is likened to a gangster telling others to “better watch out, I am going to make you pay for what you did to me”. He probably saw the video or photos and overwhelmed by the huge crowds compared to the rally at PAP site. If there is strong element of fear in Aljunied, the votes might swing in favour of PAP. However, sometime fear and desperation might just turned into wave of anger and no amount of “I stand corrected” by PAP will appease the voters.

    Frankly, I would not want a group of arrogant gangster like PAP running my town and hurl threatening stones at me over my genuine question.

  11. 12 Change lah Singaporeans 30 April 2011 at 13:39


    Thanks for breaking it down for us.

    Chiam offered a wonderful vignette about guesstimates that farmers in New Zealand rely on. It is not scientific but farmers are able to tell the winds of change by raising a finger into the air.

    Many politicians operate on their gut feeling and political instincts as much as on hard data. That’s why they are politicians.

    Journalists have to do the same when on the field. 20,000 is conservative. Typical of pro-establishment bu kan yen attitude.

    While a small fraction of Aljunied voters were present, let’s not forget it is a middle-class suburb and they’re net users. It is entirely possible they were getting info. on the net or other social networks. I know I watch all my rallies online. Or, they’ve already decided. Or, waiting until the last minute to do so.

    No one wants to stick their necks out to predict but a guide is to look at the Arab Spring and see how autocratic regimes in their dying days try their darnest to beat their drums, exploit the traditional media but it is as futile as stopping a tsunami. Our best bet is to hope for the best. I have learnt never to underestimate people’s common sense & intelligence. Singaporeans forget that we’ve adapted to all kinds of changes. We will do so again with amazing grace.


  12. 13 Sprechen Sie Singlisch? 30 April 2011 at 13:40

    Thank you for putting up the methodology used to estimate the rally numbers. Keep up the great fact based journalism!

    Seem like ST is using the classic partisan tricks like their US counterparts.

  13. 14 Magi 30 April 2011 at 13:50

    One has to be very careful about what these rally numbers truly indicate. As so many people highlighted, PAP had poor turnout in 2006 too, but they won a devilish mandate.

    Realistically, however large these rallies get, they don’t translate into very strong voting numbers. So what if there’s 50000 listening at one rally? What is 50000 to the total percentage of voters? And all the other calculation factors. Like: Night after night it’s the same people flooding the rallies.

    I think the hidden weapon of the PAP is that it has a huge number of ardent, silent supporters. The most lethal ones. These folks don’t attend rallies, because their minds are so decided on PAP. They don’t listen, they don’t examine manifestos. On polling day, they just go and vote for PAP. Round after round of PAP winning absolute majority has far convinced me this is the truth behind those poor PAP rally turnouts.

    • 15 TDOT 5 May 2011 at 22:13

      Since when did PAP win a devilish victory in 2006?

      The son of LKY only managed to gather 66.1% against a group of rookies and you call that devilish? A large number of walkover a result of GRC manipulation tactic and you call the devilish? A fresh WP team led by Silvia Lim snatched a 43.9% from PAP and you call that a devilish?

      The large turnout of enthusiatic supporters cannot be underminded. 50,000 supporters are counted in only one rally and mind you there are many rallies. After multiplying the number of rallies, subtracting the repeated count of same supporter, the number is still very frightening. A very rough estimation counting WP rally turnout of 50k per rally and just multiply it by 7 rallies you get 350k. Lets not count the other oppositions’ rally turnout and treat those as repeated count. Now 350,000 strong that came to support plus those that are at home. This large support for an alternative cannot be wrong.

      PAP understand this and is already shitting in their pants to do the patch up. The battle is still very much alive!

  14. 16 Jellyfish07 30 April 2011 at 14:03

    Not to forget that many cld not get into the stadium, the crowd outside the stadium, in the street surrounding the stadium ( there are many who chose to try to listen outside the stadium as it was just too packed in there) n many more who left after they cldnt get in. Obviously, an open field sld be a better choice to accomodate such huge audience, like the one sdp had in commonwealth open field.

  15. 17 Jeffrey Yen 30 April 2011 at 16:00

    Alex, I did a similar analysis for Hougang field 5 years ago. The number seems to be around 100,000. 20,000 is way off the mark!

  16. 18 Gard 30 April 2011 at 16:35

    Your estimate is not far from other sources, such as these ones:


    It is interesting note the relative levels of support of WP and SDP rallies (in view of 9% ‘strongly agreed’ that WP is a credible party, vs 1% so for SDP in the IPS 2006 survey.)

    Because of the ‘flow’ of people and multiple rallies/presentations over different locations and dates, static numbers rarely conveyed a sense of meaning. Some basis of comparison is welcomed:

    “On Hougang field”

    So, if I want to get a sense of Hougang’s support for WP, I’d like numbers for same place (and under more-or-less same conditions, e.g., weather, etc.)

  17. 19 Helen 30 April 2011 at 17:20

    I was there last night and I am an Aljunied voter. I will only vote for the opposition – the Worker’s Party no matter what PAP says in their rally which I will not attend/support.

    I feel we should salute the opposition for their courage to speak up for us. PAP’s George Yeo and his team mates will not lose their jobs if they lose this constituency. The govt will arrange other equally good positions for them in the ministry. On the other hand, the poor oppositions will suffer if they lose this elections. They will likely be black listed, ostracised and maybe even sued by PAP which is what they are good at doing.


    • 21 Paradox 6 May 2011 at 18:26

      A positive change will only come when people have seen work done. And who are you to vouch that George yeo and team will get equally good positions?

      so through your post i can gather that your vote is given out of sympathy and not for your future?

  18. 22 Sargunan 30 April 2011 at 17:23

    YB, you should also consider the 1000 odd people who were standing at the HDB blocks and just outside the perimeter of S’goon stadium.

  19. 23 interesting 30 April 2011 at 17:47

    Nice analysis. I just wonder how many of those present were foreign workers/talent, trying to witness for themselves how they’re being used by those on stage as scapegoats to win votes.

    I also don’t think most of them were WP supporters. A lot were just there to listen and find out.

  20. 24 Guest 30 April 2011 at 17:53

    I have on the other hand, a different perspective.

    Looking at the pictures of these WP rallies and the numbers involved, I have more worry for PAP than before.

    Unless these people attended the rallies because it was a nice day for an outing, otherwise it showed a certain level of unhappiness with the status quo in Singapore.

    And if, say a freak result like 87-0 happens, PAP has to deal with a populace seething with anger and somewhat injustice down to them.

    Now, of course, Singaporeans don’t resort to violence. We are more than that. But, if these unpacified sentiment is further angered by whatever PAP does later, after the elections (for eg GST increase due to unforseen circumstances), we could see more civil disobedience. Over the next 5 years, that sentiment grows and one day, it might just boil over.

  21. 25 Anonymous 30 April 2011 at 18:35

    First result in google:

    I think 3 people per square meter should be near the middle of the range judging by those photos. The lower densities around the edges would balance out the 5 people per square meter near the stage.

  22. 26 WevHez 30 April 2011 at 19:02

    Let’s not forget the number of people who attended the rally via online live streaming as well as those who attended via viewing youtube videos.

  23. 27 This is Anfield 30 April 2011 at 22:41

    The previous election in 2006 was referred to sometimes as the blog election, as blogs written by almost every scribe was seen as a credible source of information. I remember how blogs were hyped to be a game changer for the opposition. The result? Victory for the PAP.

    Now, in 2011, this is dubbed the Facebook election because of the medium’s reach to the masses. Again I see the hype.

    However, not everyone is on Facebook, not everyone has a smartphone and not everyone goes to the rallies. There is what we all know as the silent majority, ie, the annonymous person you meet on the street, in the hawker centre or in the mrt, quietly going about their business. Many times, you may go ‘tsk tsk’ for their lack of social graces, for their lack of tech savvy or simply label them as losers when they speak your frequency.

    These will be the ones who will mark PAP on 7 May.

  24. 28 Margaret 30 April 2011 at 23:51

    I was there on Friday. I travelled across the island, starting at 5 pm, to arrive at 6pm. There is oppo contesting my my GRC, but I support the WP. I bought small momentos – my small way of giving tangible support. I also spoke to those who were around me. They are all Singaporeans, by no means foreigners. Out of the 3 pesons I spoke to, one is a resident of the GRC, 1 from MP, and another from PP.

    We were there to give WP our moral support.

  25. 29 rogerpoh 1 May 2011 at 01:20

    An excellent piece of investigative blogging. ST can con us some of the time, but not all the time.

  26. 30 albert 1 May 2011 at 03:46

    today at WP rally in bedok stadium, the strength there could easily beat 30k, it will make Jay Chou concerts look overrated ^_^

  27. 31 Bishan-Toa Payoh Resident 1 May 2011 at 12:23

    I was there too. I came after work, at around 8:15, and the only vantage point I had was at the swimming complex North of the stadium. The grassy slope on the eastern perimeter was also 5 rows deep in people.

    The most encouraging sign was the numbers in the audience wearing blue, the colour of the WP.

  28. 32 a commentator 1 May 2011 at 22:08

    The one factor that will affect the election result is the continued veiled threat from MM and other big guns. It may well cut it the other way, and away more undecided votes to the WP side. Similar tricks have been used on Hougang and Potong Pasir in past elections. They have not worked to the ultimate advantage of PAP though.
    So it will be interesting to see how things turn out in the end — in the evening of 7 May.

    I done think things are boding well for PAP.

    From what MM is saying and doing, I can only guess he is trying to move the attention / focal point from other GRCs, like Tampines, Bukit Timah- Holland ,Bishan-Toa Payoh and Kallang Moulmein.

  29. 33 Spikey 2 May 2011 at 11:49

    @Helen on 30 April 2011 at 17:20

    Should George Yeo and his team lose, they will indeed be out of a cabinet job. Although some loophole in the constitution does indeed indicate that a minister can continue in his role without being an elected MP, only a shameless government would actually endorse it.

    And judging by the earlier comments of Lee Hsien Loong, he will abide by the mandate of the ppl – not elected = out of government.

    Nevertheless, George Yeo should easily find himself a GLC role should this scenario become reality.

  30. 34 danieloysius 2 May 2011 at 18:56

    People whose lives have never been shaken will never ask for a change. I got this phrase off a friend’s facebook. and i fully agree with it.

    Most of my pappies friends lashed out at me for even suggesting otherwise. Ironically. when i asked about where they lived, it always turned out to be some estate who was known to be rich. Landed properties and the like etc.

    I guess the main thing to remember here is that we are at a crossroads. Change is always difficult. Especially since we have traveled this far down on the road before we needed to ask that important question. “Are we lost ?” Turning around sucks. Most people would agree on that. But bear in mind. The decisions we make now… would decide the future of our children. How they live and survive.

    I guess for the silent, complacent and so called deeply rooted and satisfied pappies supporters. This is the one thing they can think about when deciding who to support.

  31. 35 sieteocho 3 May 2011 at 13:56

    There’s a small problem with your analysis. Every party holds about 10 rallies, not just 1 rally. You should count the number of people who turn up at an opposition rally at least once, and also discount those who go for more than 1, especially the party members, the hardcore supporters.

    • 36 yawningbread 3 May 2011 at 16:48

      And the point of that would be?

      • 37 sieteocho 5 May 2011 at 02:04

        Well you said that the crowd at the Aljunied rally makes up only 4-8% of the electorate at the Aljunied GRC. But say you were to add another 2% who went to Nee Soon, another 3% who went to Serangoon, another 3% who went to Ubi, and you added everything up, maybe by then by polling day you would have say 20-30% of the Aljunied electorate that went to at least 1 Worker’s Party rally. Then the picture changes.

      • 38 yawningbread 5 May 2011 at 10:37

        Tends to be the same people — including yours truly 🙂 — who’s running from one rally to another.

  32. 39 3 May 2011 at 17:16

    I attended the rally for the first time in my life. This GE is also my first time voting. I fainted at the rally when Mr Low just started his speech. Embarrasing but I have no qualms in telling people. My boyfriend has prohibited me from attending any more rallies but one is enough, because I have already made up my mind to join the Blue heros. Cheers !

  33. 40 SG Girl Next Door 4 May 2011 at 02:14

    Not attending rallies does not mean “don’t care”. I hate crowds. Hence I catch up from the internet.

    How many more 5 years can we waste?

    • 41 Anonymous 4 May 2011 at 04:09

      One issue for me is that with over 200 contestants from all parties, it is impossible to catch up on everyone’s speeches. I have been familiarising myself with the manifestos of the parties contesting in my GRC but it is difficult as I don’t understand everything.

  34. 42 Anonymous 10 September 2011 at 22:25

    ChannelNewsAsia today reports that “More than 10,000 people celebrate Mid-Autumn festival”

    10,000 people? Yet the massive crowd at the WP rally was only “estimated by observers” to be over 20,000 people.

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