Plurality (voting)

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A plurality vote (in the United States) or relative majority (in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth) [1] describes the circumstance when a candidate or proposition polls more votes than any other but does not receive more than half of all votes cast. [2]


For example, if from 100 votes that were cast, 45 were for Candidate A, 30 were for Candidate B and 25 were for Candidate C, then Candidate A received a plurality of votes but not a majority. In some votes, the winning candidate or proposition may have only a plurality, depending on the rules of the organization holding the vote. [3]

Versus majority

In international institutional law, a "simple majority" (also a "majority") vote is more than half of the votes cast (disregarding abstentions) among alternatives; a "qualified majority" (also a "supermajority") is a number of votes above a specified percentage (e.g. two-thirds); a "relative majority" (also a "plurality") is the number of votes obtained that is greater than any other option; and an "absolute majority" is a number of votes "greater than the number of votes that possibly can be obtained at the same time for any other solution", [note 1] when voting for multiple alternatives at a time. [4] [note 2]

Henry Watson Fowler suggests that the American terms "plurality" and "majority" offer single-word alternatives for the corresponding two-word terms in British English, "relative majority" and "absolute majority", and that in British English "majority" is sometimes understood to mean "receiving the most votes" and can therefore be confused with "plurality". [1] [note 3] William Poundstone observes that systems which allow choosing by a plurality of votes are more vulnerable to the spoiler effect—where two or more similar choices each draw fewer votes than a dissimilar choice that would have lost to any individual similar choice on its own—than systems which require a majority. [5]

See also


  1. For example, 50 voters elect six office holders from a field of 11 candidates, thereby casting 300 votes. The largest absolute majority in this scenario would be 50 voters casting all their ballots for the same six candidates, which at 300 votes would be substantially higher than the simple majority of 151 votes—a result that no individual candidate can achieve, since the most votes any one can receive is 50. With the smallest absolute majority in this scenario, the six winners would receive 28 votes each, totaling 168, and the runners-up would receive either 27 or 26 votes each.
  2. An "absolute majority" can also mean a "majority of the entire membership", a voting basis that requires that more than half of all the members of a body (including those absent and those present but not voting) to vote in favour of a proposition in order for it to be passed.
  3. "With three-cornered contests as common as they now are, we may have occasion to find a convenient single word for what we used to call an absolute majority... In America the word majority itself has that meaning while a poll greater than that of any other candidate, but less than half the votes cast is called a plurality. It might be useful to borrow this distinction..." —Henry Watson Fowler

Related Research Articles

Approval voting

Approval voting is a single-winner electoral system where each voter may select ("approve") any number of candidates. The winner is the most-approved candidate. It is related to score voting in which voters give each option a score on a scale, and the option with the highest total of scores is selected. It is distinct from plurality voting in which a voter may choose only one option among several, whereby the option with the most votes is chosen—even absent a majority.

Plurality voting is an electoral system in which each voter is allowed to vote for only one candidate, and the candidate who polls more than any other counterpart is elected. In a system based on single-member districts, it may be called first-past-the-post (FPTP), single-choice voting, simple plurality or relative/simple majority. In a system based on multi-member districts, it may be referred to as winner-takes-all or bloc voting.

Two-round system Voting system used to elect a single winner where a second round of voting is used if no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round

The two-round system is a voting method used to elect a single winner, where the voter casts a single vote for their chosen candidate. Despite its name, the two-round system may resolve an election in a single round if one candidate receives enough of the vote, usually a simple majority. If no candidate receives enough of the vote in the first round, then a second round of voting is held with either just the top two candidates or all candidates who received a certain proportion of the votes.

Coombs' method is a ranked voting system created by Clyde Coombs used for single-winner elections. Similarly to instant-runoff voting, it uses candidate elimination and redistribution of votes cast for that candidate until one candidate has a majority of votes.

A majority, also called a simple majority to distinguish it from similar terms, is the greater part, or more than half, of the total. It is a subset of a set consisting of more than half of the set's elements. For example, if a group consists of 20 individuals, a majority would be 11 or more individuals, while having 10 or fewer individuals would not constitute a majority. "Majority" can be used to specify the voting requirement, as in a "majority vote", which means more than half of the votes cast.

The independence of irrelevant alternatives (IIA), also known as binary independence or the independence axiom, is an axiom of decision theory and various social sciences. The term is used with different meanings in different contexts; although they all attempt to provide an account of rational individual behavior or aggregation of individual preferences, the exact formulations differ from context to context.

Simple majority may refer to:

Vote splitting is an electoral effect in which the distribution of votes among multiple similar candidates reduces the chance of winning for any of the similar candidates, and increases the chance of winning for a dissimilar candidate.

Majority rule is a decision rule that selects alternatives which have a majority, that is, more than half the votes. It is the binary decision rule used most often in influential decision-making bodies, including all the legislatures of democratic nations.

The majority criterion is a single-winner voting system criterion, used to compare such systems. The criterion states that "if one candidate is ranked first by a majority of voters, then that candidate must win".

Positional voting is a ranked voting electoral system in which the options receive points based on their rank position on each ballot and the option with the most points overall wins.

Supplementary vote

The supplementary vote (SV) is an electoral system used to elect a single winner, in which the voter ranks the candidates in order of preference. In an election, if no candidate receives an absolute majority of first preference votes, then all but the two leading candidates are eliminated and there is a second count. In the second count, the votes of those who supported eliminated candidates are distributed among the two remaining candidates, so that one candidate achieves an absolute majority.

The exhaustive ballot is a voting system used to elect a single winner. Under the exhaustive ballot the elector casts a single vote for their chosen candidate. However, if no candidate is supported by an overall majority of votes then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and a further round of voting occurs. This process is repeated for as many rounds as necessary until one candidate has a majority.

Contingent vote

The contingent vote is an electoral system used to elect a single representative in which a candidate requires a majority of votes to win. It is a variation of instant-runoff voting (IRV). Under the contingent vote, the voter ranks the candidates in order of preference, and the first preference votes are counted. If no candidate has a majority, then all but the two leading candidates are eliminated and the votes received by the eliminated candidates are distributed among the two remaining candidates according to voters' preferences. This ensures that one candidate achieves a majority and is declared elected.

Multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV), also known as plurality-at-large voting or block vote, is a non-proportional voting system for electing several representatives from a single multi-member electoral district using a series of check boxes and tallying votes similar to a plurality election. Multiple winners are elected simultaneously to serve the district. Block voting is not a system for obtaining proportional representation; instead the usual result is that where the candidates divide into definitive parties the most popular party in the district sees its full slate of candidates elected, resulting in a landslide.

The Borda count is a family of single-winner election methods in which voters rank options or candidates in order of preference. The Borda count determines the outcome of a debate or the winner of an election by giving each candidate, for each ballot, a number of points corresponding to the number of candidates ranked lower. Once all votes have been counted the option or candidate with the most points is the winner. The Borda count is intended to elect broadly acceptable options or candidates, rather than those preferred by a majority, and so is often described as a consensus-based voting system rather than a majoritarian one.

Instant-runoff voting (IRV), also sometimes referred to as the alternative vote (AV), preferential voting, or ranked-choice voting (RCV), though these names are also used for other systems, is a type of ranked preferential voting counting method used in single-seat elections with more than two candidates. Instead of indicating support for only one candidate, voters in IRV elections can rank the candidates in order of preference. Ballots are initially counted for each voter's top choice. If a candidate has more than half of the vote based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If not, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the votes. When the field is reduced to two, it has become an "instant runoff" that allows a comparison of the top two candidates head-to-head. Compared to plurality voting, IRV can reduce the effect of vote-splitting when multiple candidates earn support from like-minded voters.

Direct representation or proxy representation is a form of representative democracy where voters can vote for any candidate in the land, and each representative's vote is weighted in proportion to the number of citizens who have chosen that candidate to represent them. This is in contrast to other conventional forms of representative democracy, such as the winner-take-all system, where the winner of a plurality of votes in a given district, party or other grouping of voters, goes on to represent all voters in that group, or the proportional representation system where the number of representatives allotted to each party or political faction is roughly in proportion to the number of voters supporting each faction.

Electoral systems are the rules for conducting elections. Comparisons between different systems can focus on different aspects: on suffrage or rules for voter eligibility; on candidate eligibility and the rules governing political parties; on the way elections are scheduled, sequenced, and combined; or on the rules for determining the winner within a given election.


  1. 1 2 Fowler, Henry Watson (1965). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 725. ISBN   0-19-953534-5.
  2. "plurality". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2015-12-29. a number of votes that is more than the number of votes for any other candidate or party but that is not more than half of the total number of votes
  3. Robert, Henry M. III; Honemann, Daniel H.; Balch, Thomas J. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11 ed.). Da Capo Press. pp. 404–405. ISBN   978-0-306-82021-2.
  4. Schermers, Henry G.; Blokker, Niels M. (2011). International Institutional Law: Unity Within Diversity (5 ed.). Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN   978-9004187986.
  5. Poundstone, William (2009). Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It). New York: Macmillan. p. 352. ISBN   978-1-4299-5764-9.