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dem·​a·​gogue ˈde-mə-ˌgäg How to pronounce demagogue (audio)
variants or less commonly demagog
: a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power
: a leader championing the cause of the common people in ancient times
demagoguery noun
ˈde-mə-ˌgä-gē How to pronounce demagogue (audio)


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variants or less commonly demagog
demagogued also demagoged; demagoguing also demagoging

intransitive verb

: to behave like a demagogue

transitive verb

: to treat (something, such as an issue) in the manner of a demagogue

Did you know?

When the ancient Greeks used dēmagōgos (from dēmos, meaning "people," and agein, "to lead") they meant someone good—a leader who used outstanding oratorical skills to further the interests of the common people. But alas, the word took a negative turn, suggesting one who uses powers of persuasion to sway and mislead.

Examples of demagogue in a Sentence

Noun Like other good Whigs, they had assumed that the people, once free of English influence, would honor and elevate the country's true patriots and natural aristocracy in ways that the English Crown had not. But when in the decades following the Revolution the people seemed to succumb to the deceit and flattery of mushroom demagogues, who were the popular counterparts of courtiers, the Federalists became bewildered and bitter. Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters, 2006
Before the U.S. could begin to help Haiti rebuild its ravaged democracy last week, it first had to remove a raving demagogue. Tim Padgett et al., Time, 15 Mar. 2004
Here's the background: Tennessee's finances are a mess. The state is facing a shortfall of some $310 million—but legislators remember what happened last year when they considered imposing the first income tax on wages. Goaded by talk-radio demagogues, hundreds of citizens surrounded the Statehouse in a near riot. Editor & Publisher, 4 Feb. 2002
His opponent called him a bigoted demagogue. that politician is just a demagogue who preys upon people's fears and prejudices Verb But Clinton's boldness seemed to work, at least within the Beltway. House Republicans mostly stifled the urge to demagogue against his plan. Tom Morganthau et al., Newsweek, 11 Dec. 1995
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Recent Examples on the Web
History is always instructive: the consequences of leaving populist demagogues unchallenged are disastrous. Chuck Collins, Fortune, 17 Jan. 2024 The most pivotal election will take place in November, when the world’s most powerful democracy decides whether to turn itself over to an avowedly authoritarian demagogue. Brian Klaas, The Atlantic, 6 Jan. 2024 Our politicians are dishonest demagogues because that tactic works. Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review, 4 Dec. 2023 Zelensky warns of guerrilla war as Ukraine aid stalls in Congress Orban, the E.U.’s preeminent illiberal demagogue, has also played the conspicuous role of the bloc’s leading Ukraine skeptic. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 12 Dec. 2023 This seems prescient, given Kennedy’s recent ascendance in a political sphere already filled with demagogues, some in Congress who are politicizing dangerous nonsense about vaccines. Keith Kloor, Scientific American, 22 Nov. 2023 Anyway, here is an excerpt from my piece, citing a certain Alabama governor: Huey Long was maybe the outstanding populist and demagogue of the 20th century in America. Jay Nordlinger, National Review, 23 Oct. 2023 Analysts had cast Poland’s trajectory in line with the democratic erosion in Hungary and Turkey, where illiberal demagogues now preside over de facto electoral autocracies. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2023 In short, when the Left assaults our constitutional order and way of life, when demagogues thrive, and when public discourse is increasingly focus-grouped and dumbed down, National Review stands athwart. The Editors, National Review, 16 Oct. 2023
The difference in this era of social media is that misinformation spreads like wildfire, people become upset, and politicians feel the need to demagogue an issue rather than simply explain the facts. Rex Nelson, Arkansas Online, 5 Nov. 2023 Now, Kamala Harris came down to Florida, demagogued some of these other people, took her side. ABC News, 20 Sep. 2023 Don't side with Kamala Harris and liberals who are demagoguing this. Aaron Navarro, CBS News, 27 July 2023 The move is part of a familiar pattern with Biden of issuing executive actions to satisfy certain constituents, only to demagogue any legal hurdles as coming from a rogue right-wing Supreme Court. The Editors, National Review, 17 Apr. 2023 If one side proposes something, the other side will demagogue it. Nbc Universal, NBC News, 16 Apr. 2023 If lawmakers effectively criminalize profit, then biomedical research and development will grind to a halt—and society won't have innovative medicines for Sen. Sanders to demagogue about. Sally Pipes, Forbes, 16 Mar. 2023 It’s been running expensive ads that defend Mr. Manchin and demagogue the drug industry, which just worked miracles in the pandemic. Kimberley A. Strassel, WSJ, 4 Aug. 2022 Reexamining history is painful and requires nuanced public debate -- but is impeded by social media rants, mob scenes and politicians' attempts to demagogue history for their own gain. Stephen Collinson With Caitlin Hu, CNN, 24 June 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'demagogue.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



borrowed from Greek dēmagōgós, from dêmos "people" + -agōgos "leading, impelling" — more at demo-, -agogue


verbal derivative of demagogue entry 1

First Known Use


1648, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1656, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of demagogue was in 1648

Dictionary Entries Near demagogue

Cite this Entry

“Demagogue.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


variants also demagog
: a person who appeals to the emotions and prejudices of people in order to arouse discontent and advance his or her own political purposes
 also  -ˈgäj-

More from Merriam-Webster on demagogue

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