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Thinking back to your childhood, do you remember your parents ever asking you, “If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”
I know this fictional scenario was often presented to me when I argued to do something “because everyone else was doing it” but it didn’t often work very well.
As adults, the term “jumping on the bandwagon” is a commonly used phrase expressing our tendency to do something just because “everyone else” is doing it. We tend to like conformity because agreeing with other people is helpful as it allows us to coexist and cooperate with each other. According to the Asch Conformity Experiment, this is because of two things:
People often use this false reasoning to talk others into taking a certain action or believing something just because it’s the common thing to do. However, this is flawed logic and can have negative consequences, so it’s important to be able to identify the bandwagon logical fallacy so you don’t fall into its trap.
In this article, we will look at what the bandwagon fallacy is and then review nine examples that may come up during an argument so you can know exactly what you’re looking for when trying to spot this logical fallacy.
Let’s get started.
What is the Bandwagon Fallacy?
The bandwagon fallacy is based on the assumption that the majority’s opinion is always valid. This has a peer pressure component to it, as it argues that if everyone else believes something, you should too. However, this logic only proves that a belief is common, not that it’s accurate. This logical fallacy is used in arguments to convince others of something when there is no factual argument to use to prove the topic at hand.
This faulty method of reasoning is common to come across, whether it’s being used unintentionally or on purpose for someone’s benefit. Advertising is especially filled with examples of the bandwagon fallacy because it’s a good way to make potential customers believe they could become part of a larger group who already benefits from using a certain product or service.
The bandwagon fallacy has 18th century political beginnings, as musicians would ride on a bandwagon ahead of a crowd when they were going to a political rally, which would gather more and more people because of the excitement. The idiom that has come from this suggests that people will follow anything if it’s garnered a lot of people’s attention, even if they have no idea what it is or whether or not it’s true. The bandwagon fallacy has a snowball effect, meaning as more and more people jump on the wagon, others will continue to do so as well.
This saying transitioned to the figurative term we use today by the 1890s.
The bandwagon fallacy is especially powerful when the person who is on the receiving end of it wants to be popular or to feel like they are a part of a group. It’s also effective at tricking people who aren’t good at making their own decisions or they’re hesitant to try anything new. This fallacy is often used in the following situations:
Its typical form is:
The bandwagon fallacy goes by several other names, such as the “argumentum ad populum” (appeal to the people), “authority of the many” and “appeal to popularity”. These terms are often used interchangeably, but in this article, we will stick with the most common name and definition of this fallacy without digging into the slight differences that others may have.
Let’s take a look at some examples of bandwagon fallacies so you can get a comprehensive understanding of how to spot them.
9 Bandwagon Fallacy Examples to Spot During an Argument
1. Fitness and Health Trends
Caroline eats a well-rounded diet and exercises on a regular basis. However, all of her friends at work are starting a low-carb diet that consists mostly of protein shakes. Her officemate tells Caroline about their plan and how they’re going to all keep each other accountable, so she should join in. Caroline decides this must be the healthy thing to do so she agrees to do this special diet along with everyone else.
This may be harmful for Caroline, especially if her coworkers aren’t very knowledgeable about health and fitness and they’re mainly aiming to lose weight. Caroline’s weight may already be ideal and eating a more well-rounded diet is probably in Caroline’s best interest considering her exercise schedule.
Fitness and health trends are often examples of the bandwagon fallacy, because things become popular even if they aren’t good for everyone. Recent examples of this include specific diets like the gluten free diet, the paleo movement, eating vegan, etc. Also, diet aids (such as ephedra) have caused a harmful bandwagon fallacy effect. Ephedra became popular without people paying attention to dosing, which ultimately led to fatalities.
2. Going to College
“Because everyone else goes away to college, it must be the right thing to do.”
Our country does spend a disproportionate amount of money on those who attend college than those who choose not to. However, the vast majority of people do not even end up achieving a bachelor’s degree. There is a lot of debate on whether or not going to college is extremely necessary for most people, but there isn’t much debate about the fact that there are exceptions to this, and there are many people who have become very successful in life without attending college.
Advertising in general often uses the tactic of making something seem popular, therefore making it appealing. Take a look at this ad for toothpaste as an example:
The ad suggests that you’re already behind the curve because so many people have already switched, which is an appeal to have you “jump on the bandwagon” so to speak.
4. In History
Most people believed the earth was the center of the universe until the 16th century, which we now know isn’t true.
The “geocentric” model that was once commonly believed was a faith-based observation that was mostly accepted because others claimed it to be true without making their own observations or calculations. Those who eventually uncovered the truth like Galileo and Copernicus were people who would not appeal to what everyone else believed (i.e. they didn’t jump on the bandwagon) just for the sake of it.
5. In Movies
The bandwagon fallacy often arises in movies. If you’ve seen Mean Girls, you can probably remember a scene where everyone in the high school was copying the things the antagonist, Regina, was doing. No matter how ridiculous her actions seemed, everyone was following Regina’s lead just because Regina was so popular. As her actions and fashion statements started to be mimicked by others, more and more people jumped on that bandwagon so they could fit into the crowd.
6. In Fashion
Fashion trends come and go…and come back again. And with as much as 90’s fashion has been ridiculed in the media in the mere two decades since it was the norm, I will never understand how–or why– it returned so quickly.
As I walked through college campus last year seeing a huge number of people following this trend, I had to wonder how many of them actually felt like they were expressing themselves exactly how they wanted to…and how many were following this growing fashion trend just because other people were doing it. I feel for those who will inevitably look back on their pictures from college 20 years from now, wondering WHAT they were thinking…but I have to assume as trends change, that will always be the case.
7. Social Media Use
Sarah believes social media is damaging to relationships. She prefers face-to-face interactions and thinks communication can be misunderstood through social media. However, because all of her friends have joined and talk to each other through this medium, Sarah has decided it must not be that bad and creates an account.
Sarah has decided to abandon her values and beliefs in favor of her friends’ behaviors. She doesn’t have evidence that social media is either good or bad for relationships, but she assumes it must be alright since everyone else is doing it. So, Sarah has jumped on the bandwagon.
8. Buying the Latest Gadgets
“Everyone is getting the new smartphone that’s coming out this weekend, you have to get it too!”
This is a type of peer pressure that falls under the bandwagon fallacy. The speaker is trying to convince someone that they should do something because everyone else is, so it must be a good idea.
However, if the person has a phone that works perfectly well for them and they don’t have a need for a new one, the fact that other people are buying it doesn’t create a need–it may create a want–but that doesn’t make it necessary. Plus, if their budget doesn’t allow for it, following the crowd with this one can be harmful.
When it comes to cheering on sports teams, spectators have been known to start following a team when they become successful–even if the team has been around for a long time. Then, if that team becomes less popular or has an unsuccessful season, the sports lover moves on to become a fan of the next team that is successful or popular.
In this case, the fan’s belief that the team they’re rooting for is the “best” is based solely upon their observation of other people’s growing enthusiasm for the team. Whether or not the team should be their favorite is irrelevant, it’s their reasoning behind rooting for the team–believing they should because more and more people are doing it– is what makes this an example of a bandwagon fallacy.
Final Thoughts on Spotting the Bandwagon Fallacy
This fallacious line of reasoning presents an argument without proof of its validity– it only recognizes popularity. While there are a lot of popular beliefs that are, in fact, true–it’s the facts that support the beliefs that make them true, not the idea that they’re popular.
You have probably noticed that the bandwagon fallacy doesn’t take any contrary evidence into account when making a claim, which is not only irrational, but can also be dangerous. Be on the lookout for this type of argument in the future so you can spot it and recognize the fallacy rather than fall into its trap.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.