Vox populi

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Vox populi (/ˌvɒks ˈpɒpjuːli, -l/ VOKS POP-yoo-lee, -⁠lye)[1] is a Latin phrase that literally means "voice of the people". It is used in English in the meaning "the opinion of the majority of the people".[1][2] In journalism, vox pop or man on the street refers to short interviews with members of the public.[3]

Man on the street[edit]

A vox pop interview

American television personality Steve Allen as the host of The Tonight Show further developed the "man on the street" interviews and audience-participation comedy breaks that have become commonplace on late-night TV. Usually the interviewees are shown in public places, and supposed to be giving spontaneous opinions in a chance encounter – unrehearsed persons, not selected in any way. As such, journalists almost always refer to them as the abbreviated vox pop.[4] In U.S. broadcast journalism it is often referred to as a man on the street interview or MOTS.[5]

The results of such an interview are unpredictable at best, and therefore vox pop material is usually edited down very tightly. This presents difficulties of balance, in that the selection used ought to be, from the point of view of journalistic standards, a fair cross-section of opinions.

Although the two can be quite often confused, a vox pop is not a form of a survey. Each person is asked the same question; the aim is to get a variety of answers and opinions on any given subject. Journalists are usually instructed to approach a wide range of people to get varied answers from different points of view. The interviewees should be of various ages, sexes, classes and communities so that the diverse views and reactions of the general people will be known.

Generally, the vox pop question will be asked of different persons in different parts of streets or public places. But as an exception, in any specific topic or situation which is not concerned to general people, the question can be asked only in a specific group to know what the perception/reaction is of that group to the specific topic or issue; e.g., a question can be asked to a group of students about the quality of their education.

With increasing public familiarity with the term, several radio and television programs have been named "vox pop" in allusion to this practice.

Vox populi, vox Dei[edit]

The Latin phrase Vox populi, vox Dei (/ˌvɒks ˈpɒpjuːli ˌvɒks ˈdi/), 'The voice of the people [is] the voice of God', is an old proverb.

An early reference to the expression is in a letter from Alcuin to Charlemagne in 798.[6] The full quotation from Alcuin reads:[7][8]

Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, Vox populi, vox Dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.

And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness.

This passage indicates that already by the end of the eighth century the phrase had become an aphorism of political common wisdom. Writing in the early 12th century, William of Malmesbury refers to the saying as a "proverb".[9]

Of those who promoted the phrase and the idea, Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against King Edward II in 1327 in a sermon "Vox populi, vox Dei".[10][11]

Cultural references[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Vox Populi". Oxford Dictionaries (online). Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Merriam Webster; Random House
  3. ^ Sally Adams (2001). Interviewing for Journalists. Psychology Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-415-22914-2.
  4. ^ David Stephenson (1998). How to Succeed in Newspaper Journalism. Kogan Page. p. 34. ISBN 0-7494-2514-8.
  5. ^ Prato, Lou (April 1999). "Easy to Do, But Often Worthless". American Journalism Review. Archived from the original on 15 March 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2010.
  6. ^ Mackie, P; Sim, F (2007). "A Question of Rhetoric". Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Health. 121: 641–642 – via Public Health Journal.
  7. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, third edition, Oxford University Press, 1993.
  8. ^ "Alcuinus on Vox pops, Vox populi, Vox pop". OxfordReference.com. Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  9. ^ Martin Rule (1883). The Life and Times of St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Britains. II. Kegan Paul Trench & Co. p. 67.
  10. ^ David Lagomarsino, Charles T. Wood (2000). The Trial of Charles I: A Documentary History. "As far back as 1327, in pronouncing the deposition of Edward II, the Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds had taken as his justifying text the old Carolingian adage Vox populi, vox Dei, 'The voice of the people is the voice of God.'"
  11. ^ Philip Hamburger Law and Judicial Duty 2009 Page 74 "At the meeting of this high court early in 1327, Archbishop of Canterbury Walter Reynolds brought charges against the king, ... homage to the prince, and Archbishop Reynolds – the son of a baker – preached on the text Vox populi, vox Dei.
  12. ^ Francis Galton. "Vox Populi". 7 March 1907.
  13. ^ Safire, William (2008). Safire's Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press. p. 783. ISBN 978-0195343342. Retrieved 18 November 2015.