You're probably right. The first route case I know of wherein the DOT acknowledged a public clamor may have been TWA's DCA
in the late 1990's. In that case I always felt DOT was grasping for a reason for the award to TWA and used the public support that only TWA mustered. As a result, it's happened in numerous cases since then and all it does is burden the docket.
The DOT should tell all the airlines "We are aware that each of you can muster thousands of supporters, so please don't."