What Is a Straw Man Argument?

Politicians love these logical fallacies.

Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #502


Political ads and analysis are reaching a fever pitch, so it seems like a good time to talk about the phrase “straw man.” What does it mean when two people are debating and one accuses the other of putting forth a straw man argument?

What Is a Straw Man Argument?

I always think of the Straw Man from The Wizard of Oz, but that's not the real origin. In its simplest definition, straw man is the name of a logical fallacy, which means that if you carefully dissect the argument or statement, it doesn't make sense. Debaters invoke a straw man when they put forth an argument—usually something extreme or easy to argue against—that they know their opponent doesn't support. You put forth a straw man because you know it will be easy for you to knock down or discredit. It's a way of misrepresenting your opponent's position.

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It's as if you took a flaming scarecrow, threw it onto the debate floor, yelled “Look, it's my opponent's dangerous straw man,” and then you appeared to save the day by dousing the flames with water. All while your opponent mutters, “That's not my straw man. What just happened?”

It can be annoyingly effective because in response you may be lured into clarifying what your position is not instead of talking about what your position is, and studies have shown that when you repeat a lie, even if you are repeating it to refute it, the repetition can make people more likely to believe that the lie is true (1).

Next: How Does the Straw Man Argument Work?


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