Appeal to Popularity (Ad Populum)


The argument supports a position by appealing to the shared opinion of a large group of people, e.g. the majority, the general public, etc. The presumed authority comes solely from the size, not the credentials, of the group cited.



The phrase "ad populum" is a Latin phrase meaning "(appeal) to the public (or community)." Typical ways to express this fallacy will be familiar to anyone who watches television commercials: "the most widely sold..." or "America's favorite..."



"I'm a pepper; he's a pepper; she's a pepper; we're all peppers! You can be a pepper, too!" - 1980s Dr. Pepper jingle


"Do you not consider yourself already refuted, Socrates, when you put forward views that nobody would accept? Why, ask anyone present!" - Plato, The Gorgias


“The crowds at my Rallies are far bigger than they have ever been before, including the 2016 election. Never an empty seat in these large venues, many thousands of people watching screens outside." - Donald Trump, Oct. 12, 2018,



Truth is not democratic. One person can reason as well as a hundred, and a hundred people can be just as wrong as one. A position is not necessarily true merely because it is held by a lot of people, nor is a position necessarily false merely because it is held by only a few. When Einstein was advocating pacifism, a group of fellow scientists tried to counter his influence by stating their opposition to pacifism. They published a collection of essays titled One Hundred Scientists Against Einstein. When Einstien heard the title, he remarked, "If I were wrong, one would have been enough."

However, the Ad Populum fallacy certainly has a powerful psychological effect--sometimes known as the "bandwagon effect." And there are good reasons for this. Generally, following the predominant opinion of the inquiring community is not a bad idea. In the first place, it is certainly true that errors in reasoning are less likely to occur if the reasoning has been checked and re-checked many times. One accountant may make a mistake or two. A second accountant might catch some of those mistakes. By the time a hundred accounts have gone over the books, few if any mistakes will remain. Hence, there are good grounds for supposing that if many people hold a position, the position is likely to be true. Moreover, in my view, being rational at all means appealing to reasons (and forms of reasoning) that pass public muster. An individual may have idiosyncratic reasons for his beliefs. He becomes a rational thinker when he realizes that he must persuade not only himself, but anyone who examines his reasons. Hence, the test of good reasoning is its ability to stand up to public scrutiny. Truth is not democratic; but reasoning must be done in public.

The Ad Populum fallacy exploits the public nature of reasoning. However, the fallacy confuses the distinction between a public scrutiny of reasons and a popular (and often unthinking) acceptance of particular beliefs without scrutiny. Sometimes the fallacy is even used to draw conclusions about matters that really are just private matters of personal taste (e.g. which soft drink you should prefer).


Source: Plato collected examples of this fallacy. It is also described, but not named in Francis Bacon's Novum Organum (1620). The name itself appears to have been coined by Isaac Watts in Logick, or, the Right Use of Reason, 1796.


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