Donald Trump took the oath of office in front of a comically small crowd

The size of his crowds was the entire premise of his campaign.

There was a lot of empty space on the National Mall during Donald Trump’s inauguration. CREDIT: AP Photo
There was a lot of empty space on the National Mall during Donald Trump’s inauguration. CREDIT: AP Photo

So much for his huge ratings draw. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the crowds at Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremonies on Friday fell well short of expectations.

The record for inauguration attendance belongs to President Obama, who delivered his first inaugural address before an estimated 1.8 million people in 28-degree weather. His second inauguration was smaller, but still drew roughly one million people. Last month, Trump tweeted his intention to set a new attendance record.

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Planners were less bullish, preparing for a Friday crowd of roughly 800,000 people. Early estimates aren’t in yet, but photos taken on the mall suggest even those estimates were wildly optimistic. Here are two crowd shots, one of President Obama’s 2009 inaugural, the other from shortly before Trump’s.

Inauguration Day 2009 (left) and 2017 (right). CREDIT: Reuters/ABC News
Inauguration Day 2009 (left) and 2017 (right). CREDIT: Reuters/ABC News

Perhaps sensitive to the paltry turnout, the Trump administration turned to photo wire services for an image to use as the background to the official @POTUS Twitter account, which changed hands right at noon. As one eagle-eyed Twitter user noted, Trump’s team used a photo taken during President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, before quickly changing it.

The crowds around Washington, D.C. were thin throughout the city all morning. On social media, D.C. residents and reporters tweeted photos of empty city streets and quiet train platforms. WMATA, which operates the city’s Metro and bus system, tweeted ridership statistics from recent inaugurations that show Trump’s crowd paled in comparison to the two previous ceremonies, and even fell short of traffic on a typical Friday.

Estimating crowd sizes is tricky business. Experts rely on the size of the location and some approximation of how tightly people are standing together to draw rough estimates, but the best results come from aerial photos from directly overhead. Given the sensitive nature of presidential inaugurations, flyovers directly overhead are impossible.