A majority is a subset of a set consisting of more than half of the set's elements. This can be compared to a plurality, which is a subset larger than any other subset considered; i.e. a plurality is not necessarily a majority as the largest subset considered may consist of less than half the set's elements. In British English, majority and plurality are often used as synonyms, and the term majority is also alternatively used to refer to the winning margin, i.e. the number of votes separating the first-place finisher from the second-place finisher.
A majority may be called a simple majority to contrast with other types of majority: an overall majority, in parliamentary systems, is the difference of legislators between the government and its opposition; an absolute majority is a majority of all electors, not just those who voted; and a supermajority is a stronger majority than a simple majority.
Imagine that Tennessee is having an election on the location of its capital. The population of Tennessee is concentrated around its four major cities, which are spread throughout the state. For this example, suppose that the entire electorate lives in these four cities and that everyone wants to live as near to the capital as possible.
The candidates for the capital are:
- Memphis, the state's largest city, with 42% of the voters, but located far from the other cities
- Nashville, with 26% of the voters, near the center of the state
- Knoxville, with 17% of the voters
- Chattanooga, with 15% of the voters
The preferences of the voters would be divided like this:
|42% of voters
(close to Memphis)
|26% of voters
(close to Nashville)
|15% of voters
(close to Chattanooga)
|17% of voters
(close to Knoxville)
Here, Memphis has a plurality (42%) of the first preferences, but not a majority. We can contrast this by looking at the fourth preferences, where the majority of voters (58%) have placed Memphis last. In all single-winner voting systems apart from the simple plurality voting, Memphis will lose as a majority of voters do not want the city as capital.
In parliamentary procedure, the term 'majority' refers to "more than half." As it relates to a vote, a majority is more than half of the votes cast (noting that an abstention is simply the refusal to vote). The definition of "majority vote" can differ, however, from one parliamentary authority to another. Robert's Rules of Order defines a majority as being more than one half of the votes cast including votes for ineligible candidates or choices. The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure (abbreviated TSC) defines a majority as being more than half all eligible votes cast.
For example, assume that votes are cast for three people for an office: Alice and Bob, who are eligible; and Carol, who is ineligible.
By Robert's Rules of Order, no candidate has been elected as no candidate gained 11 votes. However, by The Standard Code, Alice is elected as she gained more than half of the seventeen eligible votes.
- Simple majority
- Absolute majority
- Two-thirds majority
- Relative majority
- Double majority - a majority of votes in a majority of states or jurisdictions.
- Majority rule
- Wipeout (elections)
- Types of Ballot Casting Election: Majority / Plurality / Blackballing
|Look up majority in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- "Overall Majority". Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Longmans. Retrieved 2009-04-26.
- "Definition of absolute majority noun from Cambridge Dictionary Online".
- "Simple majority".
- "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..." (Fowler, H.W. 1965 A Dictionary of Modern English Usage)
- Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, 2000, pp. 387, 404
- The Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, 4th edition, 2001, pp. 134, 158-9