Debates between presidential candidates have been a part of U.S. presidential campaigns for generations. The format of the presidential debate is typically more restrictive than many traditional formats, forbidding participants to ask each other questions directly and restricting discussion of particular topics to short time frames resulting in scripted responses rather than a true debate of ideas . Despite being heavily dominated by sound-bites and political spin, presidential debates still offer a rare opportunity for the electorate to see and hear candidates side by side.
However, the scripted nature of presidential debates allows candidates to purposefully engage in logical fallacies in order to win political arguments. Logical fallacies are intended to appeal to emotion rather than reason and include:
Ad hominem– the candidate attempts to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it.
False Dichotomy – the candidate claims their conclusion is one of only two extreme options, when in fact there may be completely different alternatives. The candidate then goes on to show the alternative position as clearly outrageous in order to present their preferred conclusion as correct.
False Equivalence – the candidate describes a situation where there is a logical and apparent equivalence, but when in fact there is none
Irrelevant Conclusion – the candidate presents an argument that may in itself be valid, but does not address the issue in question in an attempt to shift the focus of debate to “safer” but less relevant ground.
Straw Man Argument – the candidate misrepresents the position of their opponent by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequal proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
Proof by Verbosity – the candidate tries to overwhelm those considering an argument with such a volume of material that the argument sounds plausible, appears to be well-researched, and it is so superficially laborious to untangle and fact check that the argument is accepted as valid.
As you watch the presidential debates, try to count how many times the candidates rely on the above logical fallacies to answer or avoid answering a particular question.
– TERRANCE MULLINS
- YouTube to live stream 2012 presidential debates for first time (sfluxe.com)
- Using Debates to Turn Electoral Tide – Difficult but Not Impossible – NYTimes.com (policyabcs.wordpress.com)