"Two things only the people anxiously desire: bread and circuses."
- Juvenal (c60-130)
Juvenal was a Roman poet active in the 1st and early 2nd century AD.
His comment above was used to decry the selfishness of Rome's common people and their neglect of wider concerns. It refers to the Roman practice of providing free wheat to Roman citizens as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power.
Since then the expression "bread and circuses" has come to represent political distraction and diversion, or the satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a population. It is also sometimes used to refer to political popularity without substantive policies and actions.