Are Presidential Candidates Renting Crowds For Rallies?

Remember when Jeb Bush famously insisted that the crowd at his rally clap for him? As if it were part of the job description?

It got me wondering, would someone like Jeb, or another candidate that’s been struggling like he was, hire a crowd? Pay people to attend their rallies to make them seem like they’re gaining in popularity?

Crowds on Demand is an American publicity firm. It claims to be the only “rent a crowd” service, providing its clients with the ability to hire actors to pose as fans. Ian Cioffi decided to contact them, pretending to be an employee of a GOP candidate running for office. Their Founder/CEO, Adam Swart, responded. Here is our exchange…

Ian Cioffi: I saw your case study on foreign candidates but has your system proven to work in U.S. politics?

Adam Swart: We have worked with dozens of candidates in the US primarily but not exclusively Republican. Mostly they are candidates who suffer from lack of enthusiasm/turnout at rallies and in need of a ‘game change’ (sorry, that’s a loaded term now!). The candidates have been primarily congressional/senate candidates. We’ve only worked with one (serious) presidential candidate thus far. I have found our approach has led to increased poll numbers and, in many case made the margin of victory for a few reasons:   A) Photo-ops at rallies. Having a diverse group of people (race/gender/age) around the candidate is critical especially for those who are constantly followed by reporters but even for those who only get a couple pieces per day.   B) Enthusiastic crowds bring more media attention and shift the narrative onto grassroots supporters. Press always want to understand why people support candidate x or candidate y. Giving them great footage of enthusiastic supporters speaking about their love for the candidate provides great quotations   C) Gives a sense of legitimacy for the candidate among their existing supporters. When they see lots of enthusiastic folks at rallies, they feel like they’re backing the right horse.   D) Bolsters the candidates’ self-confidence. Some candidates knew about the paid crowds and other times we have been hired by outside organizations. In both cases, seeing more supporters gave them the confidence to up their game on stage.     Ian Cioffi : what reassurances do you offer that the crowd does not leak the fact that they were paid to arrive?   Adam Swart: We have all crowd members sign binding non-disclosure agreements. Our crowd members work for us on a regular basis and understand we value discretion given the sensitive nature of the business. The ‘leak’ issue has only happened on one occasion over the past three years.  (end)   I sent Adam some more questions, but he has not responded. Apparently I’m not very good at this undercover stuff.   Adam didn’t mention which election cycle he was talking about when he said “We’ve only worked with one (serious) presidential candidate thus far”. However, his website was only founded September, 2012. I can’t imagine he was up and running in time to get involved with Romney or Obama before their race. So one would presume he was talking about Jeb’s election cycle. But who?    One clue Adam gave us was when he stressed the word “serious” to describe the Presidential candidate they’ve worked with. We don’t know how he defines “serious” when talking about a candidate, but people who don’t follow politics too closely, might consider Clinton & Bush to be the only “serious” candidates, since they’re talked about most by the media.    Regardless of who it is, the fact that this is apparently effective, is sad. As Adam said “they feel like they’re backing the right horse”. People would rather pick the perceived  winner than the person who’s best for our country.    

Steven B

Veteran. Grandfather. Student of History. Former Medical Imaging Engineer

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