What does It Mean to "Jump on the Bandwagon"?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

The expression "jump on the bandwagon" most likely entered popular lingo during the middle of the 19th century, as a reference to the colorful wagon used during pre-circus parades through host cities. Band members would ride at the top of these ornate carriages, accompanied by other performers or privileged local citizens. The parade route would soon fill up with curious spectators, with the hope they would later become patrons of the circus itself.

Going along with what other members in a group are doing is a form of cognitive bias known as the bandwagon effect.
Going along with what other members in a group are doing is a form of cognitive bias known as the bandwagon effect.

Jumping on the bandwagon soon became shorthand for supporting a popular cause or political candidate because of a herd mentality or superficial attraction. Congressional records kept during the 1890s reveal several uses of the word during various campaign speeches. The speakers themselves warned voters not to jump on their opponent's bandwagon in haste. Few politicians would ever admit to benefiting from one of their own.

The concept of a herd mentality did not escape the marketing and advertising world, either. In fact, one classic appeal to potential consumers is called the bandwagon approach. One thing this creates is "stickiness" — the natural instinct to join a popular group and remain loyal. Advertisers count on this instinct to promote products with mass audience appeal. The concept behind this approach is to suggest that everyone else is buying this product, so why shouldn't you?

Jumping on a bandwagon is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as individuals join of their own free will. Some political bandwagons do become more of a populist or groundswell movement. But opposing candidates counter this mentality by suggesting voters are too easily swayed by the ornamentation and shininess of the bandwagon, not the candidate or political cause driving it.

Some consider jumping on the bandwagon as going beyond mere support of a candidate into active participation in his or her campaign. Such people often become very vocal supporters, much like the band members on the original circus carriages. The political bandwagon is supposed to generate interest in the candidate through sheer force of personality.

Outside of politics and advertising, the idea of jumping on a bandwagon is not always seen as a positive. Some equate it with a superficial desire to be on a winning side, regardless of one's true personal beliefs. Others see it as a last minute conversion by those seeking safety in numbers.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


GreenWeaver is exactly right and we only have their word for it that the poll was legit. If you notice they rarely tell who, how, when, what was asked and so forth. If you can't believe everything you read so why on earth would anyone believe everything they hear. Of course our country is a prime example of the herd mentality. And we a are also full of blind faith that the news media, etc. would not lie to us or steer us wrong.


@GreenWeaver-I remember that race. As a matter of fact, Giuliani pulled out after the Florida race.

The bandwagon was also in effect regarding the Presidential election that year. Obama was elected purely as a result of the bandwagon effect.

People saw that he was polling ahead of Mc Cain and wanted to make history by electing the first black President.

In fact, there were informal polls done regarding many of the Obama voters and none of them could articulate any of Obama’s positions on anything.

They all said that they voted for him because they liked his message of hope and change. Well we did change our country, but not for the better.

This is why people have to think for themselves and learn the issues and where the politicians stand on them.

People acted shocked and disappointed at Obama’s performance as President, but the information was available at the time of the election that proved that Obama would be a disaster for our country but unfortunately too many people looked the other way.


I have to say that unfortunately the bandwagon effect is very prevalent in American politics. Everyone wants to vote for a winner and I believe that the use of published polling data feeds into this mentality.

In the bid for the Republican nomination for President, Rudy Giuliani was the front runner and among the most popular choice for the nomination.

The media realized this and started publishing a series of unflattering stories about the former Mayor in hopes to sway public support away from him.

The use of polling data demonstrated that his support was waning a bit. By the time the Florida primaries came along, Giuliani was now polling third. Only Mitt Romney and John Mc Cain were ahead.

At the end of the day, Mc Cain won the Florida primary not because all Republicans wanted Mc Cain, but because he was polling in the number one position. Everyone wanted to vote for the winner and that is why Mc Cain won. I did not jump on that bandwagon and voted for Giuliani instead.

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