Just a few months ago, the US witnessed one of the biggest electoral upsets in its history, as Donald Trump was handed the keys to the White House. And today, the UK electorate, after assessing the arguments, goes to the polls. Brexit has been, and still is, one of the general election campaign’s defining issues.
The trouble is, on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s often logical fallacies, not reasoned thinking, that dominate election campaigns. Calm and controlled debate around the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, or Trump’s economic competence, can easily be pushed to one side.
A logical fallacy is a statement that initially seems true. However, after we’ve thought it through logically, we find it not to be so. Let’s take a look at the two most common ones.
The False Dichotomy
This involves providing only two options and forcing someone to make a choice between them, often when neither may be the best way forward.
For example, during the US presidential campaign Trump’s opponents argued that if he was elected his America would be “fearful” and “angry.”
Meanwhile, Clinton’s supporters argued her America would be “strong” and “confident.” But why can’t Trump’s America be strong? Or Clinton’s America angry. The electorate was given a stark, two-pronged choice.
The Brexit Debate
Then there’s Brexit. If you don’t support a “hard Brexit” – Britain completely leaving the EU – then you’re betraying the will of the British people. Out means out, remember.
Alternatively, a “soft Brexit” – Britain retaining partial EU membership, with some freedom of movement for its own and EU citizens – means you’re not fighting for the UK.
However, neither option may be the best way forward. Perhaps the best approach would be a pragmatic mixture of the two.
The Straw Man
The Straw Man fallacy involves creating a false (or exaggerated) position for an opponent. Then, you oppose it, and make your own position seem more reasonable.
For example, Clinton argued that Trump “believes we can treat the US economy like one of his casinos.” Well, he certainly made comments alluding to that.
However, suggesting that Trump “believes” that overseeing the world’s largest economy can be equated to running a casino is surely an exaggeration.
Free Yourself From Logical Fallacies
Have you seen logical fallacies being used in election campaign debates? Did you spot them in the comments of Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, UK Prime Minister Theresa May, or leader of the British Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn? Or, indeed, other politicians? Share your thoughts and experiences, below.