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Science marchers in Washington, D.C.

Bill Douthitt

More than 1500 people told us where and why they marched for science

Nearly a third of attendees at the March for Science last weekend were at their first political or issue protest, one-fifth work outside of the sciences, and most say, whether you believe them or not, that U.S. President Donald Trump was not their primary reason for gathering, an online poll conducted by ScienceInsider indicates.

Several research teams braved the chill and rain to conduct formal scientific surveys of people attending the Washington, D.C., March for Science, but ScienceInsider stayed in our cozy offices and invited the marchers to come to us and tell us where and why they took to the streets. Nearly 1600 people accepted that invite, filling out a short online survey that we ran from the start of the New Zealand march—Friday night U.S. time—through Tuesday afternoon.

Such internet polls are always difficult to decipher, warn social scientists, not least because they draw a nonrandom response. “You just have a bunch of people who care a whole lot about the issue, or what could be called a self-selected biased sample based on convenience.” cautioned sociologist Dana Fisher of the University of Maryland in College Park, who conducted one of the Washington, D.C., surveys, in an email. “The findings CANNOT be generalized to participants at any one March 4 Science or to the population of participants as a whole (or to the samples that we collected since our sampling methodology was very different and was used to be able to attempt to collect a random sample of participants).”

So take these results for what they are. For those who want to see more of the data, here’s a detailed summary, which includes the additional comments we allowed about why people were marching, and here’s the full data set in spreadsheet format.

Who marched? Many outside Washington, D.C., and many nonscientists

We may never know how many folks attended this global rally for science. Some back of the envelope calculations here at ScienceInsider suggest 500,000 to 1 million is a reasonable guess. But organizers exaggerate, crowd analysis is a formidable challenge, officials are often reluctant to give out estimates, and aerial photos in major U.S. cities were compromised by weather.

Michael Heaney, a political scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who also surveyed Washington, D.C., march attendees, says he’s confident that at least 100,000 showed up over the course of the day, and marches in other major U.S. cities reported or estimated crowds in the thousands to many tens of thousands. There were about 600 registered marches globally, some with just a few people, but a significant number of European cities drew thousands. (For what it’s worth, here’s Wikipedia’s compilation of estimated attendances.)

Of 1573 responders to our poll, a large majority said they were in the United States: Two hundred and forty-five attended the Washington, D.C., march, whereas another 812 said they rallied elsewhere in the country. Among the nearly 500 responses recording a march in another country, France (164 response), the Netherlands (80), Germany (60), and the United Kingdom (41) topped the poll turnout. We did at times tweet the survey link to specific march Twitter hashtags, so that certainly skewed the location distribution.

Assuming all these people truly marched—not a given; a handful of people checked into our survey Friday night before the marches began, and bad weather may have discouraged them in the end—it’s fun to wonder what percentage of total marchers the poll captured. Even one in 1000 or higher would corroborate the idea that the global marches drew more than 1 million people.

Nearly 22% of responders said they were academic researchers, and another 7% labeled themselves as industry or government researchers. Science educators represented 10% of the responses and science students (from undergraduate to Ph.D.) were also well-represented at more than 16%. Almost 23%, however, said they were in nonscience professions.

A. Cuadra/Science

A near-even mix of veteran protesters, newbies, and Women's March on Washington participants—and relatively old

The poll indicates that more than 60% of respondents had either attended the Women’s March on Washington (35%) earlier this year or had gone to past political protests or issue-oriented marches (nearly 29%). (The survey choices were mutually exclusive.) The remaining? Thirty-six percent were attending their first such event.

Only 10% of respondents said they were 25 or under—though anecdotally, news reports and social media-shared photos showed plenty of children and teenagers with parents or teachers. The rest of the age distribution was then close to equal among the other brackets provided. Twenty-seven percent said they were 26–35, 29% said 36–50, and 33% said they were 51 or older.

The big question: Why? More than Trump … really?

It’s probably no surprise that most respondents were very or extremely concerned about the future of science. On a scale of 1 to 5 to rank their concern, nearly 52% chose 5 (extremely concerned) and another 36% chose 4.

We tried to pin down more specific motivations for marching by asking people to pick the most compelling of four options. The top choice (48%) was “I believe science is required to solve the planet’s pressing problems.” Only 20% said they marched to “protest President Trump’s science-related policies or statements.” Many have argued that the march is mainly about Trump—a sentiment that our premarch discussions with protesters around the world reinforced to some extent. So either march organizers successfully persuaded crowds to accept that this was a nonpolitical event, or people wanted to log a more affirmative answer in our poll. About 16% labeled science funding cuts as their biggest motivation, whereas only a few (3%) said that they marched because of how science had “helped my life.”

And now?

In our final question, more than 900 people also left comments about their favorite signs or march moments, estimated the crowd size where they were or elaborated on why they participated. (Those comments can be seen in the detailed summary.) A few expressed reservations about the day—“Scientists are part of the problem and have not realised it. The March was excellent for those who already support science, but it was not inviting for those who don't.” And some of the respondents looked forward instead of back. “This was a stimulating day, but it is only ONE day,” one person wrote. “Everyone needs to continue the momentum in their own way.”