Follow TV Tropes


Appeal to Popularity

Go To

"They voted for the impossible, and the disastrous possible happened instead."
— History lesson (talking about us), Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Appeal To Popularity:

Also called

The appeal to popularity is built around the belief that something is true (or false) because a lot of people believe it is. This is fallacious because it confuses whether an idea is justified with whether it is accepted. Demonstrating widespread support for something only proves it is popular, not that it is true or false.

Alice: Don't you know smoking's bad for you, Bob?
Bob: Bah, it's just propaganda. If it were really bad for you, why would millions of people do it, hm?

This is the standard version; the belief that a large group is incapable of being incorrect. The fallacy can also be inverted, however, with popularity being taken as a sign something is wrong:

Bob: Alice, what's that terrible noise coming out of your speakers? I thought you liked The Band.
Alice: Geez, get with the times! The Band sucked since they sold out and went mainstream.

The latter logic is referred to as the "Appeal to Minority," and it underlies the phenomenon of It's Popular, Now It Sucks!, often used with regard to "edgy" and unconventional media. This also often plays a role in the so-called "Galileo Gambit" or "Galileo Fallacy", which refers to Galileo Galilei's famous persecution for his championing of heliocentrism which challenged the scientific consensus' acceptance of geocentricism, the then-held majority belief in Europe. At the center of this fallacy is the assumption that if the establishment or mainstream opinion find an unpopular belief or a theory ridiculous or even offensive, then that belief or theory must be unfairly persecuted and therefore correct. In short, it can be summed up as "everyone says I am wrong, therefore I am right." But the matter of fact is that there is no necessary link between being perceived as wrong and actually being correct; if people perceive something to be wrong, there is always a fair chance that it is wrong. As Carl Sagan once put it:

"The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbusnote , they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

The "silent majority" argument combines this with Begging the Question, since the lack of existence of popular support is held to show something is so popular nobody bothers to openly declare support for it rather than so unpopular nobody supports it at all.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • On Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei, various people start talking about some comments they are tired of, because they have heard them a million times. Kiri mentions that many people ask if she has an older brother, even though she is an only child, but Kafuka states that something said by a million people cannot be wrong, and "discovers" an older brother for Kiri, simply because it must be true.

    Films — Animated  
  • "The Mob Song" from Beauty and the Beast includes the line "Here we come, we're fifty strong and fifty Frenchmen can't be wrong".

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Case for Christ: A priest in the film whom Lee interviews states there are many more copies of Gospels than other ancient works and thus implies that the Resurrection happened. This however does not mean they were accurate (he compares it for instance with The Trojan Cycle, a work of fiction, having less). At most, it proves that this was really popular (which is obviously true).

    Live-Action TV  

  • On Have I Got News for You, Louise Bagshaw argued against the Alternative Vote method based on the fact that very few countries use it. This prompted Ian Hislop to point out that much of the world is starving, which is a pretty strong argument against eating.
  • The BBC Panel Game QI uses this extensively. Points are awarded for "quite interesting" answers, and are taken away for boring ones. If the answer given to a question is one that "everybody knows" and is wrong, a klaxon sounds and ten points are taken away. Both the examples of lemmings and piranhas have been used. Sometimes, however, the obvious answer is the real answer, which sometimes leads to the panel members phrasing their answers very carefully in case the question is a double bluff.


  • On The Debaters, Rebecca Kohler's argument against the Canadian flag: there are more Google results for "why are some farts hot?" than for "why the Canada flag is cool."


  • For a meta example, the Vaudeville act of The Cherry Sisters attracted a very large audience. However, this was solely due to Bile Fascination; they were at the time unanimously considered absolutely dreadful. They, however, were completely oblivious to this fact, and figured that because they were getting such large audiences, they must be absolutely fantastic and dismissed the savage reviews they got as Critical Dissonance.note 

     Real Life  

  • Lots of "common knowledge" surrounding various animals survives because of the appeal to popularity.
    • Lemmings are a prime example, as well as an Appeal to Authority. If everyone, including random authorities, say that lemmings commit mass suicide.... The truth: stoats. Not to mention that a famous lemmings-jumping-off-a-cliff video, as filmed by Disney, had people off-camera herding the lemmings over said cliff. This isn't as horrific as it sounds, because lemmings fall slowly enough to be unharmed by the fall, but still dodgy.
    • The idea that the adult sizes of fish and reptiles are determined by tank size falls into this.
    • As does the idea that birds won't take back hatchlings that smell like humans (fun fact: very few birds actually have a sense of smell acute enough to notice if their baby smells strange). Similarly, mother rabbits don't kill their babies if a human has touched them. However, they do kill them at times for other reasons.
    • This is also why people think piranhas are solely carnivorous. In fact, they're omnivores, and eat primarily insects, seeds, and other fish.

Looks like this fallacy but is not:

  • If the criteria being measured is popularity, or something that can be determined by popular vote. For instance, in a list of "best-selling books", the ranking is determined solely by how many copies of each book were sold, and whether it's a good book or not doesn't enter into it. However, claiming that a bestseller is necessarily good is this fallacy.
  • If the investigated subject isn't an objectively measurable thing, but a social concept, that is indeed determined by popularity. For example:
    • "Gold is valuable because many people pay for it."
    • "'Trope' is a word meaning 'storytelling device', because that's how most people use it."
    • "Most people would agree that it is improper to talk in the cinema during a movie, so don't do it."
These concepts, like economical value, linguistic meaning, or etiquette, are things that only exist because a large number of us believe that they exist. While it is objectively the case that gold has certain physical properties that give it useful applications in, say, electronics, if everyone collectively decided that it was worthless anyway, its value would indeed disappear (this happens at the beginning of the novel Galapagos). It's also happened somewhat already in the world, as gold is no longer used for currency much.

Alternative Title(s): Appeal To Majority