The Fallacy of 'Hasty Generalizations,' Explained

Logical fallacies are behind many of the harmful misunderstandings, rumors, and conspiracy theories the Snopes newsroom investigates.

Published Feb. 10, 2023

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Here at Snopes, we encounter our fair share of logical fallacies, or errors in reasoning, that tend to be more persuasive than they ought to be, and are based on poor or faulty logic. In previous coverage, we've looked at a range of fallacies including ad hominem attacks, the black sheep effect, confirmation biases, and more. Now, we're unpacking the "hasty generalizations" fallacy.

Sometimes referred to as the "over-generalization fallacy," or "unwarranted generalization," it is a claim that is based on evidence that is just too slight. Such claims rely on one or two examples, or a small sample set, to erroneously make a broad conclusion. 

An example of this fallacy, according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a peer-reviewed academic database, is, "I've met two people in Nicaragua so far, and they were both nice to me. So, all people I will meet in Nicaragua will be nice to me."

Meeting two people in Nicaragua is insufficient evidence to claim knowledge of all people in Nicaragua. 

This form of logical fallacy plays out in politics and on social media, as well. Among notable examples in recent years was former U.S. President Donald Trump's generalizations about Mexicans, while he was still a presidential candidate. 

In June 2015, during a speech in which he announced his candidacy for president, Trump said of people coming to live in the U.S. via the southern border, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. [...] They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

These claims were based on the faulty assumption that a significant number of Mexicans who move to the U.S. commit crimes in their new home. Fact-checkers and researchers have found that first-generation immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born populations in the U.S., though the data also shows that second-generation immigrants break the law at a higher rate than first-generation, and only a slighter lower rate than native born populations. 

Trump also claimed that a notable number of Mexicans were bringing illegal drugs with them in border crossings. While it is true that Mexico serves as a major transportation route for cocaine and is the primary heroin supplier for the U.S. — and it is also true that some Mexican immigrants are involved in such operations — researchers at the Center for Investigative Reporting used available data to determine that three out of four people found with drugs by the Border Patrol are U.S. citizens, according to a 2013 report. 

Trump isn't the only politician guilty of using hasty generalizations in public remarks. In 2020, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, while criticizing Trump's comments about George Floyd, a Black man murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis, engaged in the same fallacy.

While speaking to a group of Black supporters, Biden accused Trump of dividing the country with his insensitive remarks about Floyd, at the same time pledging that he, as president, would not. Biden said: "Do we really think this is as good as we can be as a nation? I don't think the vast majority of people think that. There are probably anywhere from 10 to 15% of the people out there, they're just not very good people. But that's not who we are. The vast majority of people are decent. We have to appeal to that and we have to unite people, bring them together."

Biden was widely criticized for making the broad claim — that "10 to 15% of [people are] not very good people" — and onlookers compared the statement to similar sweeping generalizations by politicians, such as a comment by Hillary Clinton in which she said supporters of Trump fit into a "basket of deplorables." 

Check out more explanations of logical fallacies here and here.


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Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.