Three Ways Politicians Are Fooling You

Heading into one of the most controversial elections in recent history, both candidates are entering the presidential race under clouds of mistrust. You already know politicians load their speeches with contrived emotional pulls, manufactured clichés, and specifically engineered phrases suited for media recaps. So, is there a way to read beyond the rhetoric?

Examining common argumentative tactics used in political speeches can help you to understand when you are being manipulated, learning to discern the message (or lack thereof) from the artificial soundbites.

In The Great Courses’ An Introduction to Formal Logic, Professor Steven Gimbel explains how to apply formal logic in order to recognize when you are being bamboozled:

  • Confirmation Bias— Even when faced with only a minute amount of evidence that supports your worldview and a huge amount that disagrees with it, you will focus on the parts that back up your opinion. Candidates often provide lengthy responses and an overwhelming amount of information, without actually answering a question directly, to lead people to employ their confirmation bias.
  • Fallacy of Irrelevance – This happens when your emotions lead you to focus on some aspect of the disagreement other than the actual disagreement. Candidates may seize an agenda-based red herring to shift your attention towards a point of view that has more mass appeal. It’s so commonly used that you may not even notice how a conversation starting off about gun-owner rights ends up with a head-nodding call for military support.
  • Fallacy of Faulty Authority – You often have to rely on others to learn what you need, but what happens if that reliance is exploited and the source is not trustworthy? Faulty authority examples include: appealing to common opinion (many share this belief, therefore it must be valid), appealing to authority (citing an uncredited or illegitimate “expert”), or appealing to tradition (we’ve always done it this way, so it must be correct).

Dr. Gimbel also notes that “arguing by analogy” (which falls under the umbrella of fallacy of faulty authority) is commonly and incorrectly used in politics. “Some political candidates cite business experience as a central reason to suppose them competent for public office. … But the goal of running a business is to defeat competition in a marketplace and create monetary profits for only your shareholders. By contrast, the goal in politics is to create laws in a way that brings more than monetary benefit to all of society. These are radically different tasks, and one cannot infer competence in one from success in the other.”

Get lessons on how not to be manipulated by faulty authority, polls and science, irrelevance, fuzzy logic, and other fallacies, taught by a Ph.D. who holds the Distinguished Teaching Chair at Gettysburg College. Or uncover more common tricks that speech writers employ by studying subjects such as public speaking, argumentation, persuasion, and rhetoric – all available on The Great Courses Plus, along with hundreds of other topics. Use this link and get your first month for free!

Article sponsored by The Great Courses Plus