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I've always been somewhat confused by this phrase because the tone of the context, which is often refuting someone else, is that they believe in it fully--to the extreme--but the actual words suggest that they mean they are in agreement with the general broad belief of society (which do not usually overlap in these usages).

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    In actual practice, the first construction is rather weaker than the second. It can be construed as "I believe about as much as the next guy," which is no endorsement at all.
    – Robusto
    Jul 4, 2020 at 20:46
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    Anyone includes everyone, as well as the most believing. So, I disagree with the last comment—the first construction is the strongest statement you can make; the second is only a limited subset of the first. Jul 4, 2020 at 21:09
  • The first use does tend to affirm strongly only as much as the most doubtful next guy. But it is used to affirm correctly that they strongly believe, very strongly indeed. I can't see who they are refuting in any case. The use is that the are strong believers. Do not doubt that or allow it to be compromised. And do not use 'believing person' in any sentence ever again.
    – Elliot
    Jul 5, 2020 at 3:44
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    @Elliot Your first and second sentences contradict each other without resolution or explanation. -The phrase is nearly always used to refute the implication that one holds a controversial viewpoint, either controversial in wider society or controversial in the sense that it is against the beliefs of the person one is in dialogue with. -What do you mean by "Do not doubt that or allow it to be compromised"? -I did not use "believing person", in which case I would've used "believer", I used "most-believing" and "person".
    – user378171
    Jul 12, 2020 at 19:39
  • @user378171, could you elaborate on why you think that 'the actual words suggest that they mean they are in agreement with the general broad belief of society'?
    – jsw29
    Jul 14, 2020 at 1:37

4 Answers 4

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The short answer to the question, as formulated in the title, is yes. If one doesn't find that obvious, here is a way of thinking about it that might help one to see it.

The phrase as strongly as is sometimes used to mean that the strength of the first item is exactly equal to the strength of the second item. Sometimes, it is, however, used to mean the strength of the first item is at least as great as the strength of the second item, i.e. that the strength of the second item is not greater than that of the first. It is in that latter sense that the term is used here. (The existence of such two meanings is not peculiar to this term; the same ambiguity exists in as large as, as fast as, as smart as, as rich as . . . .)

Now the sentence says that I believe this not just (at least) as strongly as this or that specific person, but as strongly as anyone. The sentence, so to speak, invites you to go ahead and pick any person you please, and tells you that, whichever person you pick, it will turn out that I believe it at least as strongly as that person. As you can pick any person, it is possible that you will pick the person whose belief is the strongest (among the relevant beliefs of all people other than me). If the sentence is to be true, it then has to be the case that I believe it at least as strongly as that person. The sentence is thus logically equivalent to 'Nobody believes more strongly than I do that . . .'.

Such declarations are often followed by 'but . . .', that is they often introduce some qualification or limitation of the belief, but that is not a part of their literal meaning.

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    Using strict logic, that may be the case, but this is an idiomatic expression. I've never heard it, nor said it myself, to mean "I believe the strongest". In my experience it's use has always been to indicate that the speaker holds some belief to the same degree that the average person does. That is, they aren't some radical or reactionary. Just a good, red blooded American.
    – siride
    Jan 6, 2022 at 13:12
  • @sride It means that they aren't deviant in the wrong direction.
    – user84614
    Jan 8, 2022 at 6:56
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To borrow from Jason, hat tip, Anyone includes everyone and makes little distinction. Doubtful or not they are included, no contradiction is intended by including everyone. It is a way to say "I too, believe. Don't hassle me." What must be understood is that this phrase is usually used to preface a specific condition the speaker wishes to stipulate.

"Despite my agreement and dutiful belief along with most people I think there is another condition requiring clarification that a non-believer might raise." There can be confusion when the speaker who has just agreed with the belief then steps into the critical non-believer role to get some questions answered. The phrase is used to introduce detailed doubts or exceptions to the idea.

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As a statement, it is an assertion that you believe as strongly as anyone else.

But the phrase or a similar one is most often used as a preclude to a qualification.

For example, “I believe as strongly as anyone in freedom of speech, but . . . “ And then the speaker will explain exceptions, limitations, etc.

Or “I believe as strongly as anyone in educating our children, but in a time of pandemic . . .”

It’s a rhetorical device.

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I've always been somewhat confused by this phrase …

You are not alone.

It is meaningless rhetoric much loved by politicians and other people with a point to make but lacking evidence.

Its use is supposed to add an air of “common sense” and vague public consensus to the speaker’s claim, yet, in the final analysis, it can only mean “I believe X to the same extent as people who believe that fact” – which is a circular argument.

Consider

"I believe as strongly as anyone that the Earth orbits the sun." Here, it is not required as the claim is undisputed.

[At a meeting of anti-vaxxers] "I believe as strongly as anyone that Covid vaccinations are a plot by the Illuminati." – anyone means “anyone who is here and/or supports this view”.

In both cases, it is redundant.

“I believe as strongly as anyone that all medical treatment should be free at the point of delivery.”

=

“I believe that all medical treatment should be free to the same extent as people who believe that all medical treatment should be free believe that all medical treatment should be free at the point of delivery”.

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