Appeal to the People (Fallacy)


Marlon Brando plays Mark Antony in the MGM film adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'.
Marlon Brando plays Mark Antony in the MGM film adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images 

An argument (generally considered a logical fallacy) based on widespread opinions, values, or prejudices and often delivered in an emotionally charged way. Also known as argumentum ad populum. Appeal to the majority is another term often used to describe a large number of people in agreement as a valid reason or argument.

Appeal to the People

  • "Mark Antony's famous funeral oration [see synchoresis, dubitatio, paralepsis, and kairos] over the body of Caesar in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (act 3, sc. 2) is a brilliant example of mob appeal. . . .
    "This magnificent speech helps us see, again, how an argument can be turned away from reason and toward emotion through the cunning introduction of irrelevancies. When the audience is a large group, the enthusiasm stirred up can reach powerful proportions which can bury the real question at issue. Through tactics like sarcasm, suggestion, repetition, the big lie, flattery, and many other devices, . . . mob appeals exploit our irrationality." (S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason. St. Martin's, 1986)
  • "The public buys its opinions as it buys its meat, or takes in its milk, on the principle that it is cheaper to do this than to keep a cow. So it is, but the milk is more likely to be watered."(Samuel Butler, Note Books)
  • "The argumentum ad populum used in democratic political rhetoric can make political argumentation appear to be reason-based when it is not and subvert and undermine reason-based deliberation in democratic political argumentation." (Douglas Walton, "Criteria of Rationality for Evaluating Democratic Public Rhetoric," Talking Democracy, ed. by B. Fontana et al. Penn State, 2004)

The Direct and Indirect Approach

"Nearly everyone wants to be loved, esteemed, admired, valued, recognized and accepted by others. The appeal to the people uses these desires to get the reader or listener to accept a conclusion. Two approaches are involved: one of them direct, the other indirect.

"The direct approach occurs when an arguer, addressing a large group of people, excites the emotions and enthusiasms of the crowd to win acceptance for his or her conclusion. The objective is to arouse a kind of mob mentality. 

​"In the indirect approach the arguer aims his or her appeal not at the crowd as a whole but at one or more individuals separately, focusing on some aspect of their relationship to the crowd. The indirect approach includes such specific forms as the bandwagon argument, the appeal to vanity, and the appeal to snobbery. All are standard techniques of the advertising industry." (Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 11th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

In Defense of the Appeal to the People

"[N]ot only is the appeal to popular sentiment or opinion of the type associated with the traditional argumentum ad populum a nonfallacious kind of argumentation in some contexts of dialogue, it is a legitimate technique and can be an important part of constructing a correct and successful argument."(Douglas N. Walton, The Place of Emotion in Argument. Penn State ​)

Also Known As: appeal to the gallery, appeal to popular tastes, appeal to the masses, fallacy of mob appeal, ad populum

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Appeal to the People (Fallacy)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Appeal to the People (Fallacy). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Appeal to the People (Fallacy)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).