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What is a Plurality Vote?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A plurality vote is a vote in which a candidate takes more votes than any other candidate without winning the majority of votes. In order for a plurality to occur, there must be at least three candidates, as in a two candidate race, one candidate would obviously win the majority of the votes. Many nations around the world use a plurality voting system to determine the outcome of their elections, although some people have criticized this method, arguing that it allows candidates to win without a clear mandate from the people.

By contrast, a majority vote involves a vote in which one candidate takes at least 51% of the vote, indicating that the majority of voters selected that candidate. Some people use the term “absolute majority” to differentiate this type of vote from a plurality. In England, for example, people use “majority” to refer to a plurality, and “absolutely majority” to refer to a majority.

In a simple example of a plurality vote, if a classroom of 30 students was asked to choose between three candidates for class president and Candidate A won 13 votes, Candidate B won 9 votes, and Candidate C won 8 votes, Candidate A would be the winner. As can be seen from this example, it is possible to win a plurality vote by a fairly narrow margin, sometimes much to the dismay of people who voted for the other candidates.

You may also hear a plurality vote referred to as a winner take all vote or a first past the post vote. Other nations use different systems, as for example a party list system, in which people vote for a specific party, and seats in a legislative body are assigned depending on the percentage of votes won by each party. Some people feel that proportional representation like party list voting is more fair, because it ensures that every citizen has a chance to be heard, even if he or she does not agree with the plurality of the population.

There are a number of variations on the plurality system. For example, some nations use multiple rounds of balloting in an attempt to satisfy as many citizens if possible. If a candidate fails to win a majority vote in the first round, the top candidates will advance to a second round, and so forth. Others are attached to the plurality system, which can sometimes sharpen deep national divisions. In the United States, for example, Presidents are often elected with a plurality vote.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon39726 — On Aug 04, 2009

When millions plurality vote, they can't easily organize, and often split votes, electing the worst candidate instead of the compromise candidate. Majority voting does not give enough votes. Solution: Let all voters vote for their favorite. If there is a majority, that one automatically wins. If there is no majority, each candidate gets whatever votes they won, and may cast them for the winner, who wins by plurality. The candidates first discuss their order of preferences to know who the centrist is. They then must cast their votes in order of biggest to smallest. The big ones can vote for the centrist, or force a decision between extremes. Smaller extremists who know they will lose will of course vote for the centrist, not themselves.

Best of all, the candidates know each other better than the voters do, and know who the real centrist is. Many candidates can run without splitting each other's votes. Those with the best ideas to make everyone happy will rise to the top.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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