Did you ever notice that when government programs are labeled "popular," it is always by their beneficiaries, e.g.
For the second time in two years, the state universities are weighing whether to limit or even get rid of the popular AIMS scholarship, which waives tuition and fees for thousands of college students.
Since most similar government programs consist of giving people something of value for free or at least for a below-market price, aren't they always going to be popular with their recipients? Wheat subsidies are popular with wheat farmers, light rail subsidies are popular with those who ride it, cash-for-clunkers was popular with folks who got 2-3x blue book value for their trade-ins, and education subsidies are popular with the students and parents who get them. In this usage, then, I would argue that the word "popular" in the paragraph above is entirely tautological and should therefore be eliminated from standard usage. The only meaningful definition of "popular" vis a vis a public program should be "popular with those who fund it."