Debating Disadvantages


A disadvantage is a negative argument that proves that the affirmative plan is undesirable.  It is really one of the simplest ideas in debate – it is an argument about a negative consequence that will result from adopting the affirmative plan.

For example, the affirmative plan may save lives.  The disadvantage proves that the affirmative plan hurt the economy, triggering despair, death and even war (for example)

Debate is not the first time that you have considered disadvantages when making decisions.  For example, even when making a simple consideration of whether or not to buy a shirt, you take into consideration disadvantages.  One disadvantage to buying a particular shirt is that it will take away money from something else that you may wish to spend it on – like another shirt or a pair of shorts.  Or, you may think the shirt will look bad on you. These simple arguments are all disadvantages.

It is important to note that any given disadvantage alone is not necessarily a reason to vote negative.  Negatives must argue that the disadvantage (or combination of disadvantages) proves that the affirmative’s plan is net-undesirable – that the costs outweigh the benefits.  To continue with the example above, the negative would need to prove that it is better to buy the pair of shorts with the money than the shirt.

What are the parts of a disadvantage?

In debate, disadvantages have a number of different parts. Although these parts make the disadvantage appear more of a difficult argument than what has just been discussed, the different parts will actually assist you with both understanding different types of arguments generally and with constructing and answering disadvantages.

Link.  The link is the part of the argument that ties the negative disadvantage to what the affirmative is arguing.  For example, a link to a Federalism Disadvantage (sample) argues that greater action by the federal government (the central government in Washington, DC) will decrease the rights of the states.. Disadvantages can have more than one link. In this instance, different links would focus on different reasons that the affirmative pans intrude on states’ rights.. For example, regulating in a particular area (a local pond) or in a certain way (mandating the states do a certain thing) may represent a specific intrusion.

Similarly, environmental regulations may alienate businesses that will likely incur costs complying with the regulation.

Internal link.  The internal link connects one link to another link or one link to an impact.  For example, if the negative argues that federal is violated and the courts do not strike-down the violation that it may set a precedent for future violations, unraveling federalism. Disadvantages can have multiple internal links, though negatives will strive to limit of internal links necessary to reach the impact. Disadvantages with many internal links are less persuasive because even one of the internal links fails to happen, there is a break in the disadvantage chain, and the entire disadvantage is beaten. For example, if the negative argues the Business Confidence disadvantage (sample), claiming regulations make business uncertainty, business uncertainty leads to a recession, recession leads to depression and then depression leads to war, teams can argue that if anyone of those internal links is not true then the disadvantage falls.

Impact. The impact is similar to a harm claim, though the term impact is usually used in the context of the disadvantage.  The disadvantage is the final, end problem that results. For example, if the negative’s disadvantage argues that federalism is necessary to avoid central government tyranny, the impact may be that tyranny leads to genocide. Similarly, some teams may argue that an economic decline caused by a lack of business confidence may cause a war.

Uniqueness.  The uniqueness to the disadvantage is usually presented first, but since it is the hardest part of the disadvantage to understand, it is discussed last.  Uniqueness refers to the part of the disadvantage that argues that the disadvantage will not occur absent the adoption of the affirmative plan. There are three types of uniqueness arguments, though the negative will likely only present a general uniqueness claim in the first negative constructive.

Link uniqueness.  Link uniqueness establishes that the link will not happen now.  In the instance of the federalism disadvantage, the negative will argue that the government will not adopt regulations that further infringe on federalism now. In the instance of the Business Confidence disadvantage, teams will argue that the government will not issue new environmental regulations now.

Internal link uniqueness.  Internal link uniqueness argues that the internal link will not happen now.  For example, if the internal link is that federalism is necessary to protect against centralized power, internal link uniqueness would say there is not centralized power now.  Similarly, if the internal link on the Business Confidence disadvantage is recession, teams will argue there won’t be a recession now.

Impact uniqueness.  Impact uniqueness establishes that the impact will not happen now.  If the impact is “democracy stops genocide,” the negative would argue there is not tyranny now.  Similarly, if the impact is depression causes war, teams will argue there won’t otherwise be a depression now.

Disadvantages are first presented in the 1NC as off-case positions.  The basic shell should contain the link, internal link, impact, and uniqueness arguments.  Sometimes debaters will forget to demonstrate support for one of the parts. It is the job of the affirmative team to point this out.

It is essential that the negative win every part of the disadvantage.  If one part of the disadvantage falls the entire disadvantage falls.

How Do You Answer a Disadvantage

You want to come up with answers to a disadvantage by attacking the various parts of the disadvantage.  

Answer the link.  When you make a “no link” argument, you are contending that the first step in the disadvantage will not result from supporting your plan.  For example, you could argue your plan does not intrude on any area of state authority against federalism or argue that it doesn’t significantly intrude on businesses against business confidence.

Turn the link.  A link turn argues that the opposite of the link is true – the affirmative’s plan actually strengthens federalism (perhaps by cooperating with the states). 

Answer the internal link. When answering the internal link, you are essentially arguing that “A” will not produce “B.”  In this instance, you would present evidence that even a small reduction in state power doesn’t undermine the overall structure of the federalist system. You could also argue that a recession won’t cause a depression.

Turn the internal link.  Just like when turning a link, if you turn the internal link you argue that the opposite of the internal link is true.  For example, if you argue that cooperating with the states increases federalism, you are turning the internal link. While this particular argument seems counterintuitive, there are many instances in which the opposite of the impact could result from the internal link.

Answer the impact. An impact answers says that the impact is false.  For example, if you argue that federalism doesn’t prevent tyranny you are answering the impact.  Similarly, an argument that “economic decline doesn’t cause war,” answers the impact.

Turn the impact.  An impact turn says that not only is the final impact not bad, it is good.  For example, if you argue that tyranny is good because it prevents COVID-19 from spreading, you are turning the impact. If you argue that economic decline stops environmental destruction, you are turning the impact.

Inventing Your Own Logical Affirmative Arguments

Look for missing internal links.  Often negative teams will not present all of the internal links that they need to prove the disadvantage.  Sometimes they do not present them because they do not have them (they are either missing the evidence that they need to support the internal link or the internal link simply is not true).  Sometimes they do not present them because they wish to keep the initial presentation of the argument shorter, and will fill in the holes if they choose to extend the disadvantage later in the debate.  Regardless as to why the internal links are not included, you should be sure to point that out and at least make them read the evidence later in the debate.

Attack the probability.  Disadvantages are designed around arguing that the affirmative’s plan will kick-off a chain of events that will eventually trigger some catastrophe. The more internal links the lower the probability of the disadvantage because each intervening step would have to all occur in order for the disadvantage to happen.  There is only a given probability of each occurring, and the probability of them all occurring together is even much smaller.

Think about history.  Think of what you know about history to argue that parts of the disadvantage are false.  For example, think of a time that the U.S. suffered a recession (such as after the 9-11) attacks and argue that that did not produce a depression.

Reference current events.  Although you may not have a lot of recent evidence on a particular argument advanced by the negative, used what you know about current events to argue against the disadvantage. For example, you may know that the government has just issued some new environmental regulations.

Claim the impacts are “empirically denied.”  Almost all disadvantages have terminal (final) impacts that involve wars or some other form of total destruction.  The total destruction relies on these wars escalating from small conflicts to large, global ones. Point out that we have had many wars in recent history that have not escalated – U.S/Iraq, Israel-Hezbollah, U.S.-Afghanistan, India-Pakistan, etc.  

Prepare a General Set of Disadvantage Answers

As you advance through your debate career, you will have a better understanding of all of the different disadvantages that people are likely to run and how to answer them.  As you grow to gain this knowledge, it will be possible for you to prepare more specific answers to each disadvantage. Until then, you can help yourself by thinking about different general approaches and arguments that you can use to defeat all kinds of disadvantages.

Use your affirmative to non-unique the disadvantage.  As discussed in the last section, most disadvantages have impacts related to war and tyranny.  Affirmative plans often contain advantages that stem from preventing war. You can use your affirmative case to argue that war is inevitable unless you vote affirmative and that the disadvantage is non-unique.  Think about any harm claim that you have made in your 1AC. If a disadvantage impact is similar to any harm claim you have made, you can argue that that disadvantage is non-unique in the status quo and can be prevented by voting affirmative.  On this specific topic, you can argue that environmental decline causes war.

Use your affirmative to solve the impact.  Think of a way that voting for the affirmative can prevent the impact. For example, if your affirmative case focuses on reducing pollution, have a general piece of evidence that pollution breaks-down societies and causes conflict.

Maintain an apriori claim.  An apriori claim is a claim that one teams makes that they will say is more important than all of claims made by the other side. For example, an affirmative team may argue that the judge has a moral obligation to support their affirmative plan.  They will argue that this moral obligation should hold even if the negative disadvantages are true. If you have an apriori claim for your affirmative, you can always be prepared to argue that this trumps the negative’s disadvantage.

Be Careful When Answering Disadvantages

Do not answer your own affirmative harm claim.  When you are answering the impact to the disadvantage do not take-out your own affirmative harm/impact claims.  For example, if you have an “economy decline causes war” impact in your 1AC, and the negative reads an economy impact, you will not want to argue that economic decline does not cause war.  You certainly don’t want to present an impact turn against your original 1AC impact!

Do not double-turn yourself.  A double-turn occurs when you make both a link turn and an impact turn.  For example, you could argue that you both save the economy and that economic growth is bad.  If you do this, you will essentially presenting a disadvantage against yourself – you are arguing that you strengthen the economy and that that is bad.

You can also double-turn yourself by turning both the internal link and either the link or the impact.  For example, if you argue that the affirmative plan saves money, and that a recession will stop a depression, you are essentially arguing that you stop a recession and a recession is good. Similarly, if you argue that you stop a depression by causing a recession and that a depression is good, you are essentially arguing that you stop a good economic depression.  

Other Things to Consider when Attacking the Disadvantage

Accept reality. Sometimes the negative has a very strong link to a given disadvantage. If that is the case, focus on debating the internal link, the impact, or the uniqueness (or all three). .

Make a variety of arguments.  Make as many different link, internal link, impact, and uniqueness arguments as you can.  The weakness of the disadvantage may not be obvious to you after the 1NC, but it will become obvious as the 2NC or the 1NR responds to each of the arguments that you present.  

Avoid impact turning disadvantages.  Sometimes it is necessary to impact turn a disadvantage – you may not have any/many other arguments.  If you need to straight-turn a disadvantage, you should do so. But, if you do you are in for a very tough fight – most teams are very prepared to debate the impacts to their disadvantages.   The link debate is what they will most likely be less prepared for.

Straight-turning Disadvantages

There are two different ways to turn a disadvantage. A disadvantage can either be link-turned or impact-turned. You CANNOT do both. If you do both, you are double-turning yourself.

Straight link turning

If you want to link turn a disadvantage, you need to win three arguments:  a link take out, a link turn, and a link non-uniqueness argument. In the business confidence example, you need to win that the plan doesn’t hurt business confidence (no link), that it it helps the economy (link turn), and that the economy is decreasing now (non-unique)

It is worth noting that you do not necessarily have to win the original link answer.  What you do need to win, however, is that you save money on the net – that you save more than you spend. Making link answers will help support the size of your link turn.

If you want to straight link turn a disadvantage, you should not make any other arguments against the disadvantage.  If you make an internal link take out (recession doesn’t cause depression), you are not straight-turning the disadvantage because the negative can then concede that argument and say it doesn’t matter if you help the economy because there is no value to stopping an economic recession because it won’t cause a depression. Similarly, if you make an impact take-out to a depression, the negative can concede that, arguing that there is no value to saving the economy because an economic depression isn’t bad.

The key thing to remember is that when you straight link-turn a disadvantage you should not make any other arguments than those that are discussed in the sections below.

Straight Impact Turning

If you want to straight impact turn a disadvantage, you need to make an impact take-out and an impact turn. To continue the business confidence example, you could, for example, argue that economic decline doesn’t cause war but that economic growth will destroy the environment and threaten our survival.  You are impact turning the disadvantage because you are arguing that it is good that you destroy the economy.

Unlike the strategy for link turning, you do not want to make any non-uniqueness arguments when impact turning a disadvantage.  If you argued, for example, that the economy will collapse now, then there is no unique advantage to you collapsing the economy.  The negative could simply concede your “economic collapse now” argument to get out of the disadvantage you just turned.

Like the strategy for link turn, however, again you do not want to make any other arguments against the disadvantage.  If you make “no link” arguments, for example, claiming that you do not spend money (and subsequently hurt the economy), then the negative can grant this and say you can’t trigger the impact turn.

Why should you straight turn a disadvantage?

It is very trendy to “straight turn” disadvantages.  Debaters often get excited when teams run a disadvantage that they are prepared to straight-turn.

Straight-turning the disadvantage is a risky approach, however.  If you choose to straight turn the disadvantage you must necessarily decide to forego making other good arguments – link no link arguments and no internal link arguments.  These parts of the disadvantage may be the weakest part of it. Failing to attack those parts may be a gift for the negative.

Moreover, if you straight turn a disadvantage, you are going to force the negative to “go for it” – to extend it instead of may another disadvantage, another topicality argument, or another kritik strategy.  These other arguments may be weaker or you may simply be more prepared to defeat them. You may rather have the other team go for those arguments. If you straight-turn the disadvantage, you are “forcing their hand,” making them debate about something they may even want to debate about.

There are times, however, when you want to straight turn – either link or impact turn – the disadvantage.

You can’t defend your affirmative case. Perhaps the negative has launched a devastating attack against your cause for which you are unprepared.  If you know that you will not be able to defend your case against their attack, you can straight-turn a disadvantage. This will give you another advantage that is not dependent on winning your original case.

You want to divert the other team.  Perhaps the other team has another solid disadvantage or counterplan for which you are unprepared. If you do not want them to go for it, try straight-turning a particular disadvantage that you’d rather have them go for.  

You can’t answer a counterplan. The other team may come up with a tricky counterplan that you are unprepared to debate.  The counterplan, however, is not enough. The other team will need to win that the counterplan is net-beneficial – that a particular disadvantage that links more to the plan than the counterplan is a reason to only vote for the counterplan (see the section on counterplans for a greater explanation).  If you straight-link or impact turn that particular disadvantage, they will not be able to win that the counterplan is competitive.

Reduce the other team’s speed advantage.  Some teams are very, very fast. Or, at the very least, they are much faster talkers than you are.  They may present five or six different disadvantages in the 1NC. If you straight turn all of their disadvantages, it will force them to try to extend all of them in the negative block.  This is very difficult and will upset their verbal quickness advantage.

It is very important that you only straight turn disadvantages when you think that you need to do so to win the debate.  If you do not need to straight-turn a disadvantage to win the debate, do not do so. Defeat the disadvantage as best as you can and use the disadvantage to outweigh the case.

Advanced Disadvantage Answering Tips

Put your best answers last.  This is something that you should only do if you have some experience and are good at allocating your time. Generally you want to put your best arguments in order to insure that you have time to make your best arguments.  If you put them last, however, teams that are top heavy are less likely to answers them – or at least answer them very well.

Read an “add-on.” An add-on is an additional short advantage that you can read. If you read it on the disadvantage flow, teams are less likely to answer it.  If you can find an add-on related to the disadvantage (say one that says that you stop an economic downturn), you should read it on the relevant disadvantage.

“Kicking” a Disadvantage

Sometimes during a debate you will want to “kick” – not go for – one of your disadvantages.  To do this, you need to effectively “kick” it.

It is very important that your properly kick a disadvantage.  If you do not, the affirmative team may easily extend a turn.

For example, imagine that you present that initial spending disadvantage that I have been discussing and that the affirmative responds with the following five arguments:

  1. No link – we don’t spend money
  2. Turn – we save money
  3. Non-unique – the government will spend more money in the future
  4. No internal link —  economic recession doesn’t cause depression
  5. No impact – Economic depression doesn’t cause war

You can easily kick this disadvantage by conceding either number 4 or 5 (or both).  It wouldn’t matter if the affirmative saved money if a recession doesn’t cause a depression or if a depression doesn’t cause a war.

If you do not kick the disadvantage in the 2NC or the 1NR, and you do not go for it, the 1AR can simply extend numbers 1-3 to then straight-turn the disadvantage.  In the 1AR they do not have to extend all of their original 2AC arguments and in the 2NR it is too late to go back and do that for them. Similarly, if you do not kick the disadvantage in the 2NR, the 2AR could make the same choice to only extend numbers 1-3.

It is also important to note that the affirmative is not limited to straight-turning the disadvantage in the 2AC.  If the negative goes for the spending disadvantage after thee affirmative makes these five arguments, the 1AR could choose to only extend numbers one through three in the 1AR. At that point, the 2NR has to go for the disadvantage.

Debating Disadvantages on the Negative

This section follows the affirmative answers section because until you understand how to answer a disadvantage on the affirmative, you will not be able to effectively debate it on the negative.

Have an overview.  You should prepare a written out overview that explains the basic thesis of your disadvantage, with a particular focus on the links and impacts.  You-should make arguments related to the following in your overview:

Time-frame. You should come up with reasons that the disadvantage will happen before the affirmative case advantages.

Probability. You should some up with reasons why the disadvantage is more likely to happen than the affirmative advantage. You should focus on the relative strengths of your links and internal links relative to the affirmative’s advantage internal links and solvency when making probability arguments.

Impact. You should argue that the disadvantage impact is greater than the affirmative’s advantage impact. It is also useful to read some evidence that says that your disadvantage impact causes their case impact.  For example, if the affirmative case you are debating has a racism advantage, you could argue that an economic decline (if you are arguing the spending disadvantage) causes racism. For this reason, it is good to have a variety of different impacts to your disadvantage.

Have a large list of links.  It is always good to read a large list of links to the disadvantage in the negative block. First, it enhances the credibility of the disadvantage.  If the judge thinks the disadvantage is credible, he or she will see it as being probable. Probability is critical to risk assessment. Second, if the affirmative has any link turns, especially specific ones that you don’t really know how to answer, reading a large list of links will help demonstrate that there is a net link to the disadvantage.

Make a strong uniqueness defense.  Unless the affirmative does not contest it at all, you should read a lot of evidence to defend the uniqueness to your disadvantage.  If you read a lot of uniqueness evidence then it will be very difficult for the 1AR to go for a straight-link turn strategy or to win a link turn of value by the end of the debate simply because their turns will not be unique (There is no value to saving money if we don’t have a financial shortfall now).  Generally, affirmative teams will be more prepared than negatives to debate the specifics of the link/link turn debate, but negatives can neutralize that by making a strong uniqueness defense. Affirmative teams are less likely to be prepared to debate the uniqueness of a specific disadvantage.

Focus on a couple specific disadvantages.  Do not try to write every disadvantage you have heard of. Instead, develop a couple strong generic disadvantages that link to many different affirmative cases on the topic.  This is important for a few reasons. First, you will come to learn these generic arguments well. If you know them well you will be able to explain them well to judges, be able to do excellent impact analysis, and come up with your own reasons that a given disadvantage links.  You will also be able to quickly come up with answers to your own arguments.

To develop a couple of specific disadvantages, you need to do a few things:

Prepare link blocks. Think of every case you know of and write some briefs that have comprehensive explanations of the various links from the affirmative’s plan to the disadvantage. Come up with as many links as possible.

Research uniqueness. This is something that you can do both at home and at a the tournament.  You should be sure to carry 15-20 strong uniqueness cards for each of your main disadvantages to the tournament

Be able to switch.  You need to be able to win the uniqueness to your disadvantages at tournaments.   Sometimes the world of current events will overtake you and make it impossible for you to win uniqueness to a particular disadvantage at a given tournament. When this happens, you need to be realistic – prepare to extend another disadvantage!  This is why you need to be prepared to run more than one disadvantage.

Have relatively different disadvantages. You do not want to be prepared to debate two very similar disadvantages (such as a spending and economy) disadvantage.  If both disadvantages are very similar, 2ACs will be able to save time making similar arguments and you may end up in trouble on uniqueness to both disadvantages.

Prepare before the debate starts.  Before the debate starts, stay focused.   There are two things that you need to do before the debate.  First, decide which of your two primary disadvantages you are likely to go for.  Things to consider: how good is the team you are debating at debating each one, which is more likely to outweigh the case, which is more likely to have an impact that will trigger the affirmative’s case harms.  Also, consider the judge – does the judge have an opinion on either.

Second, write an overview that is specific to the affirmative, put together a long list of links to read in the negative block, and write out some of the impact analysis that is specific that will go in your 2NC/1NR overview that is relatively specific to the affirmative case that you are debating.

What Should You do of A Team “Double-Turns” Themselves?

I find that debaters have a very difficult time answering this question when I ask it.  There are two things that you need to do if a team double-turns themselves:

First, concede both turns (link turn & impact turn or impact turn and internal link turn or link turn and internal link turn).  Explain why the combination of turns is a new disadvantage against the affirmative (the affirmative case increases economic growth and economic growth is bad).  

Second, answer the other 2AC arguments. If you do not, for example, answer the affirmative’s internal link take-out, the 1AR can extend that, proving it doesn’t matter if they save money and growth is bad because saving money won’t end up promoting growth.