Definition of demagogue in US English:



  • 1A political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.

    ‘a gifted demagogue with particular skill in manipulating the press’
    • ‘It is time to oppose the racist demagogues and unite the defence of foreign workers and refugees with the campaign against unemployment, welfare cuts and attacks on basic rights.’
    • ‘I'm loathe to give support to reform which would bring such demagogues into parliamentary politics, let alone government.’
    • ‘Secondly, the continuing decline in living standards has led to a level of desperation and social degradation that provides a fruitful basis for the emergence of right-wing demagogues.’
    • ‘In so doing, she claims, they fall into ‘the logic of terrorists, demagogues, and other absolutists who perceive no moral dilemmas: For them, the right path is always clear.’’
    • ‘What do these reformist demagogues propose to the millions of minimum-wage workers and the millions of unemployed?’
    • ‘A return to national self-determination, he believes, would take the feet from under the new nationalist demagogues and bolster democratic politics in the historic nations of Europe.’
    • ‘Faced by a wave of support for anti-immigrant demagogues, there is a danger that governments will adopt some of their attitudes.’
    • ‘Moreover, the circus promises the appearance of a mysterious Prince, a demagogue who is plotting untold evil.’
    • ‘Sadly, but predictably, the effort to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions has come under attack from demagogues claiming a cynical political motive for the effort.’
    • ‘In an attempt to divert the resulting social unrest, Stalinist bureaucrats and communalist demagogues fomented nationalist sentiments while seeking patrons among the major powers.’
    • ‘But that a fascist demagogue could receive considerable support among workers is cause for great concern.’
    • ‘He has still not been allowed back but proves a democrat rather than a demagogue in person.’
    • ‘Furthermore it allows the electorate to participate more fully in national matters making politicians more experts in government than demagogues.’
    • ‘He is a powerful demagogue and a high ranking political propagandist for the Republican party.’
    • ‘While his friends admired him as a nationalist leader, his enemies simply considered him a communist, a demagogue, and a dangerous man.’
    • ‘Discontent fuelled by the pro-business policies of social democratic governments has given a boost to right-wing demagogues in several European countries.’
    • ‘Faced with this situation, it is increasingly the case that it is not only the most extreme right-wing demagogues who are playing the nationalist card.’
    • ‘Its chief glories are the demagogue, the military bully, and the spreaders of libels and false history.’
    • ‘‘Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician's or the demagogue's but also of the statesman's trade,’ he claimed.’
    • ‘Although the political scene continues to be dominated by nationalist demagogues, there are signs that a significant section of voters feel disenfranchised as a result.’
    rabble-rouser, political agitator, agitator, soapbox orator, firebrand
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1 (in ancient Greece and Rome) a leader or orator who espoused the cause of the common people.
      • ‘For historians of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the case against Athenian democracy was linked directly to the case against the rhetorical practices of the Athenian demagogues.’
      • ‘Tradition condemned the demagogues as tyrants who manipulated public opinion for their own selfish ends.’
      • ‘The fear was that a charismatic leader could use the office of tribune, with its base of power in the common citizen, to become a demagogue.’
      • ‘Socrates was one of the most critical opponents of the demagogues.’
      • ‘School children are taught that democracy in ancient Greece failed because demagogues whipped up mobs.’
      • ‘The masses were, in brief, shortsighted, selfish and fickle, an easy prey to unscrupulous orators who came to be known as demagogues.’


Mid 17th century: from Greek dēmagōgos, from dēmos ‘the people’ + agōgos ‘leading’ (from agein ‘to lead’).