Cognitive biases are not inherently bad; they help us make split-second decisions by leveraging the opinions of others, but they are often prone to error.

The bandwagon effect is a cognitive bias that influences what people do and say. It’s also known as herd mentality; it happens when people adopt behaviors and opinions because everyone else is doing it. 

A significant disadvantage of the bandwagon effect in research is that it leads to biased survey responses because people will go with what’s popular rather than their actual opinion.

What Is the Bandwagon Effect?

The bandwagon effect happens when we adopt certain behaviors or beliefs because so many other people believe or act in the same way. It’s a fairly common phenomenon that shapes our perspectives, how we interact with others, what we buy, from whom we buy, and even who we vote for.

The bandwagon effect isn’t always obvious; no one notices it because everyone is doing it. It is also easier to conform to what everyone else is doing than to be the sole opponent of what everyone else is doing.

The bandwagon effect does not always involve everyone jumping on board; it often starts with one person doing something, and then everyone else follows suit. For example, if there is a sponsored ad about a popular celebrity using a specific bank, the majority of people who see the ad are only interested in the bank because of the celebrity.

Causes of the Bandwagon Effect

There are several reasons why people get sucked in by the bandwagon effect, here are some of the most common ones:

Cognitive Advantage

One of the main reasons people jump on the bandwagon is that it’s efficient; it’s a cognitive shortcut that doesn’t require as much intellectual strain as proposing their own opinions or acting their way.

It is easier to pick an option everyone agrees with because analyzing why people choose an option involves a longer mental process. It’s even more difficult when there’s a logical reason to choose that option.

Peer Pressure

Another major reason people adopt a particular behavior or belief is that they want to fit in, which is extremely difficult when they have opposing views and opinions.

Peer pressure is often not as aggressive as depicted in movies; rather, it is more subtle. It comes in the form of certain opinions and behaviors that we must adopt to be recognized as members of certain groups.

Even if no one says anything, any behavior or opinion that contradicts the group makes us feel like outsiders.

For example, your workplace may not have an official dress code, but most people adhere to one because that is how most people in the profession dress. So, to feel like a part of this organization, you start dressing similarly.

If a new hire dresses differently, it may only take a couple of days for them to switch to that dress code without being told.

A Desire to Be Right

The majority of people want to win, and one of the simplest ways is to join the side with the most support and chances of winning. It’s why people change their minds about who they want to vote for after seeing pre-election poll results.

Also, if we are in unfamiliar territory, we tend to follow what everyone else is doing out of fear of being wrong. That is why students change their answers to match someone else’s considered smart answer.

If you’ve ever wondered how a new celebrity social media account goes viral overnight, this is how it happens. People see them for the first time, and they’re everywhere, and we all want to be seen as supporting the right person, so we all jump on board.

Approval and Acceptance

Most of us have an ingrained desire to belong or be a part of something. The desire grows even stronger when we see a group or someone we admire doing something.

For example, if a dance goes viral on TikTok because a celebrity did it, there’s a good chance that a lot of people will jump on board and do the dance because they want to be a part of the trend and associated with the celebrity.

Another example is that most of us want the approval of people we admire even when there is no pressure. Some behaviors and beliefs shape who they are, so we start adopting them to gain their approval or admiration.

Factors That Contribute to the Bandwagon Effect

  • Indecisiveness

People who haven’t made up their minds about something are more likely to conform to public opinion. When people are unsure what to do or say, they are more likely to mimic what everyone else is doing to appear correct.

  • Information Exposure

The amount and type of information available to people can also influence their bandwagon effect. For example, if many people buy a specific piece of clothing on social media and it receives positive reviews, other people are more likely to want the same item.

  • Cultural Backgrounds

Our cultural background influences our perceptions of what is right and wrong. We are more likely to conform to our societal norms than other points of view because it’s our environment.

For example, if it is unacceptable to do something in one culture, and there is a poll about whether doing that thing is right or wrong, candidates are more likely to join the wrong bandwagon, even if they disagree with it.

Implications of the Bandwagon Effect in Polling

The bandwagon effect isn’t always a bad thing; it can even help us make better decisions. However, jumping on the negative bandwagon can have a slew of drawbacks. Here are a few of them:

  • Irrationational Decisions

One of the most damaging effects of jumping on the bandwagon is that it can sometimes make irrational decisions seem rational. We end up selecting options we don’t truly support because many people do.

We jump on the bandwagon because we want to be different and stand out from the crowd or because we want to be a part of something extraordinary. That is one of the most significant ways in which people’s entire beliefs and behaviors change, for better or worse.

For example, people take misguided nutritional and health facts from social media because there is a community of people who do the same thing or a very influential person who does it.

  • Wrong Election Predictions

If people have a preconceived notion of who the preferred candidate is, they may choose the candidate in the polls but vote for another in the actual elections.

Also, if people discover after the pre-election poll that their candidate is losing, they may decide to vote for the opposing candidate because they want to win.

  • Influences Respondents Behaviour 

Respondents may give unnatural responses to appear correct. For example, a respondent may repeatedly select the same candidate throughout the survey even if they do not support the person’s policies to appear loyal or to select the best candidate.

Examples of the Bandwagon Effect

Here are some examples of the bandwagon effect:

  • The 2020 Us Election Poll Results

The pre-election polls for 2022 suggested that Joe Biden would easily defeat Donald Trump. People jumped on the Joe Biden bandwagon because he seemed to be the likely winner, which he was.

  • Local Elections with Media

People are more likely to vote for a candidate who has received widespread media attention and multiple endorsements. It makes them look correct because they are associated with the “right choice.”

Also, people are just as quick to abandon a candidate if the person is receiving too much negative media attention.

  • NFTs Adoption

NFTs and cryptocurrency have been quickly adopted by both businesses and individuals in recent years. Many people jumped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon after its pump because there was so much pressure from everyone.

The same thing happened when NFTs first became popular; many people were eager to buy, sell, and create NFTs.

  • Popular Brand Adoption

People are more likely to purchase products from a brand if it is well-known or used by a celebrity. This is why most brands use popular influencers and celebrities to promote their products.

People no longer buy products for what they are; they buy because they associate the brand or the product with influence or popular opinion. The disadvantage is that customers frequently experience buyer’s remorse and may even return the items.

Customers may feel so dissatisfied with their purchase that their perception of your brand shifts to the negative, reducing the likelihood of them returning as loyal customers significantly.

  • Social Media Trends

This is how most social media algorithms work; interactions with popular trends increase users’ visibility. People are more likely to jump on trends when it’s popular on social media because it increases their chances of being discovered.

How to Reduce the Impact of the Bandwagon Effect on Polls

  • Use a Representative Survey Sample

Ensure that your survey sample is representative of the population you are surveying. It reduces the possibility of receiving biased responses from participants and allows you to see their points of view.

  • Unbiased Survey Content

 Avoid using words that imply only a specific response is acceptable. This causes participants to provide unnatural responses because they assume it is the “correct response.”

  • Don’t Rely on a Single Data Source

Using only one data source increases the possibility of biased responses. So, check the accuracy of your data by comparing it to different data sources.

  • Provide Respondents with Context

Respondents are more likely to provide objective responses when they understand the poll’s purpose. This helps them recognize the significance of their opinion, which inclines them to give insightful responses.

Also, participants are more comfortable sharing opposing viewpoints if you reassure them about the confidentiality of their data.

Conclusion

The bandwagon effect is the tendency for people to adopt popular behaviors or opinions. This effect can make survey results unreliable because respondents select options based on what they have heard, not their opinion.

You can avoid the bandwagon effect in your polls by providing respondents with context for the survey. Also, ensure that the survey content isn’t biased in such a way that respondents believe a particular option is the best.


  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 8 min read

Formplus

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