A bandwagon fallacy is a logical fallacy in which a person reaches a conclusion only because it is a popular idea or belief and not for any logical reason related to the subject.
This fallacy, also known as the bandwagon effect, gets its name from the expression ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ which means to do or believe something just because it’s a popular thing to do. However, the bandwagon fallacy is also called ‘appeal to popularity or ‘Argumentum ad Populum’.
The bandwagon fallacy is part of a group of fallacies known as informal logic fallacies. These fallacies find faults in arguments that occur in everyday situations rather than strictly logical arguments in academic work. Particularly, the bandwagon fallacy leads people to make what is called a ‘hasty conclusion’ for the wrong reasons.
In the case of the bandwagon fallacy, a person believes something just because it is a popular opinion or belief. This is wrong because their reasoning for that belief is not based on evidence to support their belief, it is merely based on the opinions of other people.
Bandwagon Fallacy Examples
1. “Everyone is Going!”
Scenario: Brandon says to Mark: “Don’t do your homework, come to the movies tonight. Everyone is going to be there.”
In this scenario, Brandon is trying to convince Mark to go to the movies with him instead of doing homework. In an attempt to get Mark to go to the movies Brandon provides a reason for why Mark should go to the movies. His reason is that everyone is going to the movies, therefore mark should go too.
However, Brandon is committing the bandwagon fallacy because everyone going to the movies has nothing to do with Mark or why he should not do his homework.
Here we see that the reason Brandon gives is completely unrelated to Mark and his concern about doing his homework.
Therefore, Brandon’s reasoning is wrong, he has not given Mark any correct reason why he should not do his homework, he has rather just made an appeal to what everyone else is doing.
This also happens to be an appeal to emotions fallacy, where the argument is not about logic but about emotions (in this case, fear of missing out).
2. “It’s so Popular Right Now!”
Scenario: An advert says “The new Audi is the most popular car right now, everyone says it’s the best.”
The advert is claiming that the latest Audi is the best car. The reasoning behind why the car is the best is that it is popular and because all the people say it is the best. Here we have two interconnected reasons and so it may seem like there is lots of evidence to support the advert’s claim.
However, if we take a closer look at the two reasons given we see that they both fall into the category of a bandwagon fallacy. The fact that the car is popular is a direct appeal to what a large group of people thinks.
While the related statement that everyone thinks the car is the best is doubling down on this by claiming that not only is it popular but that all the people who think it is popular also think it is the best car.
When we take a closer look at these reasons we see that the assumption is that it’s true because lots of people say it is. However, the advert has not given any substantial and relevant reasons which would lead us to believe that the car is the best.
There is no information about value for money, safety, speed, comfort, or any other features which are relevant to a car being of good quality.
3. “It’s Fashionable!”
Scenario: When Ahmed is deciding what clothes to buy, his friend tells him that the new jeans are the most popular fashion at the moment. If he wants to feel comfortable he should buy them.
Ahmed’s friend claims that the most popular jeans will feel comfortable for him to wear, and thus he should buy them. Even if Ahmed did want comfortable clothes, his friend does not give him a good reason for why the new jeans would be comfortable.
The reason Ahmed’s friend gives him is that they are the most popular.
The popularity of clothes is not only based on comfort but is more often based on what is considered fashionable.
Therefore, popularity is not a good indicator of comfort, and Ahmed’s friend is commiting the bandwagon fallacy by appealing to popular opinion rather than something related to the comfort of clothes.
4. “The Up and Coming Travel Destination”
Scenario: Teresa wants to go on her summer vacation and spend some time at the beach. In the latest travel magazine, it says that a trip to Austria is the up-and-coming travel destination and so she goes on holiday there.
Teresa has decided that Austria would be a good place for her summer vacation. She decided this because a travel magazine claimed that Austria is the most popular choice for people going on holiday.
The problem is that Austria does not have a coastline and therefore no beaches. Originally Teresa wanted to spend some time at the beach for her summer vacation and now she will no longer be able to do so. Teresa based her decision on which country to visit on the popular opinion that she read about in a magazine.
If she had rather investigated countries which had the nicest beaches, regardless of how popular they were, she would of enjoyed her holiday at the beach.
5. “My Friends Vote for This Party!”
Scenario: John loves the planet and wants to vote for a political party whose main goal is to prevent global warming. All his neighborhood is voting for a party and so he decides that this party must be the correct choice, even though climate change is not on their agenda.
John’s neighborhood played the biggest role in his decision of who to vote for, despite his commitment to stop global warming. The fact that everyone else around him was voting for a different political party made him believe that this was also the best choice for him.
The political party that John ended up voting for had no agenda about climate change and John did not have any reason to believe they were the right choice other than the fact that all his neighbors were voting for them.
John is committing the bandwagon fallacy by letting the fact that all his neighbors were voting a certain way convince him to do the same. His reason was thus based on popular opinion and not on any evidence that the political party he voted for was really a good choice. In particular, for John, this would have been a party with a climate change agenda.
6. “Everyone Else was Doing it!”
Scenario: Rita sees everyone crossing the street even though the pedestrian traffic light is red. She is impatient and also decides to cross the street while the traffic light is red. As she is doing so, a police officer sees her and asks her what she was doing. She replies that she thought it was okay because everyone was doing it.
Rita gets caught by the police as she is crossing the road when she should not. Even though the pedestrian traffic light was red she saw many people crossing the road and so she thought that it would be okay for her to do the same thing.
When the policeman confronts her about what she did wrong her reason is that she did it because everyone else was doing it, even though she clearly saw that she should not be crossing. Rita is committing the bandwagon fallacy because her reason for why it was okay is that everyone else was doing it.
The unspoken assumption in this scenario is that because everyone else was doing it, it must be right. Therefore, she is appealing to popular opinion instead of relevant reasons or evidence. The fact that many people were crossing the road does not have anything to do with the rules and regulations of the road for pedestrians. Therefore it is an incorrect reason for why it was okay that Rita crossed the road when she did.
7. “It’s a Best Seller!”
Scenario: Carlos loves romance novels and wants to read more of them. When deciding which new book to buy at the book store, he decides to take the book which has been the best seller for the year.
Even though Carlos loves reading romance novels and wants to read more of them he chose the best-selling book despite the fact that it is not a romance novel. His decision was based on which book was the most popular and not on the content or theme of the book.
This goes against the fact that he also wanted to read a romance novel and yet he was persuaded that a different book would be better solely by popular opinion. He made the assumption that if so many people had bought it he would definitely like the book.
However, his choice did not refer to any features of the book which might appeal to him. Since the scenario is one in which Carlos is buying himself a book, a correct choice would have to refer to Carlos’ criteria of what makes a good book. Therefore, his reason for choosing the book is not relevant to his decision and Carlos is committing the bandwagon fallacy.
8. “It’s the Hot New Diet Fad!”
Scenario: Remy loves sport and always eats a healthy diet. However, at his work, everyone is talking about the new keto diet. Even though he is not sure if he needs that type of diet he thinks that his colleagues should know best and he starts the diet.
In this scenario, Remy is making a decision about what diet to follow. He is already a healthy person and is clearly capable of making good health choices. However, when he is at work he keeps hearing about a new type of diet and starts to get convinced that if everyone is talking about it, it should be a healthy choice for him
Remy is committing the bandwagon fallacy because his decision was purely based on what other people were talking about. A correct diet-related decision would take into account factors such as nutrition, dietary requirement, allergies, amount of exercise, etc. We can clearly see that Remy took none of those types of relevant information into account and was rather just convinced by popular opinion.
9. “It’s in Over 100 Countries!”
Scenario: Two people are sitting and eating Mcdonald’s fast food. The one says to the other that Mcdonald’s is eaten in over 100 countries all over the world. It must be good food!
In this conversation, one person makes a claim about the quality of Mcdonald’s food. Their claim is backed up by a correct statistic about the prevalence of Mcdonald’s all over the world. However, just because the statistic they give in support of their claim is correct, we must not be so quick to believe that the claim is necessarily good.
The correct statistic about how many countries Mcdonald’s is found in – while impressive – does not necessarily make the claim that Mcdonald’s food is good a true claim. Why is this the case? It is about the relevance of the evidence to the claim and not just about if the supposed evidence is true or not.
The statistic in question refers to the popularity of the food and not to its quality. For example, the statistic does not tell us anything about the nutritional content of the food or about how well/interestingly it is cooked. This would be relevant evidence for knowing if the food is indeed good food. Instead, the statistic cited as evidence is an appeal to popularity and as such fall into the category of a bandwagon fallacy.
10. “It Must Be True if Everyone’s Talking About It!”
Scenario: Claire is going to Scotland and really want to see the loch ness monster, she has heard about it since she was a child. Her friends tell her that it’s just a myth and there has never been any proof. She thinks to herself that if it wasn’t true then how come so many people always report seeing it.
When Claire is confronted by her friend telling her that the loch ness monster is not real she thinks that her friend is wrong. She thinks this because there have been so many rumors and people claiming that they have seen the loch ness monster. Her reasoning is that if many people have said it, then it must be true.
Claire is basing her belief in the loch ness monster on popular opinion, despite the fact, that there has never been any real evidence for it. She is clearly committing the bandwagon fallacy.
Other Logical Fallacies
Understanding the bandwagon fallacy and how it applies in a variety of real-world scenarios can help you to avoid it yourself or indeed, avoid being guilty of using it to prove one of your own points.
Sometimes popular opinion is correct, but that’s not the point. The point is that regardless of popular opinion a belief or argument must be based on reasons or evidence which directly relates to it. This is a key feature of critical thinking and it can help us all have a better understanding of each other and the world we live in rather than fall prey to group thinking.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]