By Allison Duncan
Even if you think you’ve decided which candidate you’re voting for, you may still be researching other candidates who will be on the ballot. So as you wade through the various campaign promises and attack ads, watch out for logical fallacies often employed to persuade you.
A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning that means the conclusion does not follow from the reasons given to support it. The method of reasoning the speaker used to arrive at a conclusion is flawed, even if the conclusion happens to be true.
Here’s an example: “My pastor told me to pray for wisdom as I decide how to cast my vote, so I’m going to do that.” It’s true that we should pray for wisdom. But if the only supporting reason we give is “my pastor told me to,” that in and of itself isn’t enough reason to justify our conclusion, according to the laws of logic (although the laws of the Spirit are another story). This is the “appeal to authority” fallacy, which makes the argument logically invalid, even if it’s not necessarily spiritually invalid.
Here’s another example of the same fallacy: “My favorite Christian author endorsed the antichrist, so I’ll do the same.” See how this argument is structurally unsound?
My examples of these eight fallacies are meant to show how everyone, regardless of political persuasion, makes and believes fallacious arguments. One of our responsibilities as voters is to beware of them, and do our best to use sound reasoning to arrive at the truth.
1. Post hoc ergo propter hoc (“After this; therefore, because of this.”)
Just because one event happened after another doesn’t mean the first event caused the second. In other words, correlation does not equal causation.
“Crime has gone down while Senator Jones has been in office, so I’m going to vote to re-elect her.” What other factors, perhaps outside of Senator Jones’ control, might have reduced crime?
What is true of the whole isn’t always true of a part, and vice versa.
“The Republican party is being taken over by white nationalists, so I’m not voting for Attorney General Smith, because he’s a Republican.” Better to find out whether Smith is himself a white nationalist.
“We’ll never be able to fund all the government programs our Democratic governor wants to implement. Democrats are fiscally irresponsible.” The governor isn’t necessarily representative of the entire party.
3. Either/or fallacy
This fallacy sets up a misleading choice between two options without allowing for a combination of the two or a totally different third option.
“If you don’t care about policies that help the poor, you have no compassion.” Maybe you do have compassion for the poor, but you want to help them in ways other than policymaking. Or maybe you prioritize different policies out of concern for other public needs.
“Either you elect officials who will fight to limit and eventually end abortion, or you condone the murder of innocent children.” Again, it might be a matter of priorities or pragmatism that leads us to vote for candidates whose views don’t perfectly match our own.
4. Faulty sign fallacy
This comes from jumping to conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
“That candidate accepted campaign contributions from big oil companies, so you can bet she won’t do much to invest in renewable energy.” This might be an understandable assumption to make, but it’s still only an assumption.
5. Genetic fallacy
This fallacy attacks the source of an idea (its “genes”) rather than the idea itself.
“Representative Bernard got caught misusing funds two years ago, so his plans to boost the economy can’t be trusted.” Politicians’ behavior might give us good reasons not to trust them, but it doesn’t necessarily invalidate their policies.
“Representative Miller is a career politician who’s out of touch with everyday citizens. Her plan to help the middle tax bracket is completely unrealistic.” It’s the content of a candidate’s plan that we have to examine first. Her career and her social class may not be relevant.
“Representative Caldwell has never held elected office, so how could he have the expertise to reform tax law?” Lack of experience may matter, but it doesn’t prevent someone from having good ideas.
6. Straw man fallacy
If you misrepresent your opponent’s position, you’ve set up a “straw man” that is much easier to attack.
“Governor Sanchez cut the budget for education last year, so she must not care about investing in our children.” She most likely cut the budget for some other reason.
7. Slippery slope fallacy
This assumes that if someone takes a certain action, the inevitable result will be a disastrous outcome down the road.
“Socialism is only a few steps away from Communism. If we start to implement any socialist policies, we’ll eventually end up not owning any private property.” This simplistic view of causation doesn’t acknowledge other factors that may intervene.
8. Red herring fallacy
This is an attempt to distract listeners from the real issue at hand.
“You think my favorite candidate is a liar? Well, your favorite candidate is a thief.” We have to weigh the pros and cons of each candidate, but there’s no reason to overlook or excuse one person’s faults just because the other person’s seem worse.
Being on the lookout for logical fallacies means you’re ready to spot misleading claims and shaky reasoning in every party’s communications. Examine those arguments carefully, and vote wisely!
Allison Sheeler Duncan studied English and theology at Eastern University and is now a writer and editor at a university in southeast Pennsylvania. She writes about grace, beauty, and justice at her blog, Shining from Shook Foil. She enjoys growing flowers and heirloom tomatoes, watching superhero movies, and writing in calligraphy.