What is the 'Bandwagon Effect'

The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people do something primarily because other people are doing it, regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override. The bandwagon effect has wide implications but is commonly seen in politics and consumer behavior. This phenomenon can also be seen during bull markets and the growth of asset bubbles.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bandwagon Effect'

In politics, the bandwagon effect might cause citizens to vote for the person who appears to have more popular support because they want to belong to the majority. This tendency of people to align their beliefs and behaviors with those of a group is also called a herd mentality. For example, people might buy a new electronic item because of its popularity, regardless of whether they need it, can afford it or even really want it.

Bandwagon Effect Origin

The term "bandwagon" refers to a wagon that carries a band through a parade. During the 19th century, an entertainer named Dan Rice traveled the country campaigning for President Zachary Taylor. Rice's bandwagon was the centerpiece of his campaign events, and he encouraged those in the crowd to "jump on the bandwagon" and support Taylor.

The campaign was successful, with Taylor elected president, prompting future politicians to employ bandwagons in their campaign efforts in hopes of similar results. By the early 20th century, bandwagons were commonplace in political campaigns, and "jump on the bandwagon" had become a derogatory term used to describe the social phenomenon of wanting to be part of the majority even when it means going against one's principles or beliefs.

Bandwagon Effect at Work

The bandwagon effect permeates many aspects of life, from stock markets to clothing trends to sports fandom. During the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s, dozens of tech startups emerged that had no viable business plans, no products or services ready to bring to market, and in many cases nothing more than a name (usually something tech-sounding with "com" or "net" as a suffix). Despite lacking in vision and scope, these companies attracted millions of investment dollars in large part due to the bandwagon effect.

The bandwagon effect frequently happens among fans when sports teams start winning. The Miami Heat of the NBA averaged 17,730 fans at home games in 2009-2010, the season immediately before LeBron James' announcement he was leaving Cleveland to play for Miami. After James arrived in Miami, he promptly led the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning two of them. During those seasons, the Heat's home attendance averaged between 19,700 and 20,000 fans.

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