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Difference between plurality and majority

Plurality vs majority

After all of the votes are cast on Election Day, the next step to determine the winner of a specific candidate race is see what percentage of the electorate voted for a certain person. The results can either produce a candidate who won by plurality or by majority. To better understand voting, it is important to understand the distinction between these two terms.

The difference between a majority and a plurality is simply a matter of percentage. A majority is reached when more than half of an electorate – 50.1% or higher – vote for a candidate. In most voting situations, a majority guarantees a “winner take all” scenario for political candidates.

However, in most open elections – where multiple candidates compete for the same post – the only true way to win an election is through a plurality. A plurality is achieved when a candidate with the highest percentage – even if it below a 50.1% threshold – wins the election. As more candidates throw their hats into the ring for consideration, the statistical likelihood of achieving a majority is diminished. For example, let’s pretend that three candidates ran for a political post. The first candidate receives 40% of the vote, the second 35%, and the third 25%. In most applicable political settings, the first candidate would be considered the victor by plurality.

In some cases, an absolute majority is necessary for a victory, and a plurality is only the first step to winning. Returning to the previous scenario, the first and second candidates – who received 40 and 35 percent of the vote respectively – would be selected to compete in a two-round system of voting; the third candidate would not advance to the next round. The first two candidates would face off to see who then would achieve the actual majority. This practice is common in France, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Afghanistan, and several other nations.

In other cases, a plurality can be used as a final arbiter of power. For example, in proportional representation models, the number of votes a particular political party receives will equate to the amount of votes it can exert in future legislation. The United Kingdom is a great modern example of this practice. As opposed to a “winner takes all” situation (like in the United States), the UK allows minority parties who don’t receive the highest amount of votes to still possess a diminished voting power in comparison to the victor party. For example, if a party receives 10% of the vote, they would be able to hold 10% of the seats in the Parliament. This way, if a vote is still relatively close, power is not completely isolated in the hands of one particular party.

The difference between plurality and majority is a matter of slight degrees. However, when studying comparative politics where one juxtaposes one nation’s voting practices against another’s, this slight difference can produce drastically different results.

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  1. Interesting Read

  2. The United Kingdom parliament is not proportionate. It uses a plurality system for electing MPs (lawmakers).

    Within the UK, the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do use various forms of Proportional Representation, but that’s not what you were talking about.

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