In North American English, the term plurality, also called relative majority used in the context of voting, refers to the largest number of votes to be received by any candidate (or any proposal in a referendum). It is contrasted with an absolute majority, or simple majority, which is more than half of the votes. In other words, in an election contested by more than two candidates, plurality occurs when one candidate receives the most votes but not necessarily more than half of the votes, while in a majority election a candidate wins if they receive over half of the votes. When no candidate receives a majority in the first round of voting, a two-round system or ranked voting system can be used to choose a winner.[clarification needed]
In British English
In UK constituency elections, which typically feature three or more candidates representing major parties, a plurality is sometimes referred to as a "majority" or a "relative majority" while the terms "overall majority" or "absolute majority" are used to describe the support of more than one half of votes cast. The plurality voting system is called first past the post in the UK.
For example, consider an election where 100 votes are cast for three candidates, with Alice polling 40 votes, Bob 31, and Carol 29. A Briton might say "Alice won with a majority of 9" (since Alice polled 9 more votes than her closest competitor), whereas a Canadian would say "Alice won with a plurality", since the Canadian definition would use the word "majority" only if Alice had polled more than all her competitors combined.
The term is also used in demographics, to refer to groups, as defined by particular parameters such as ethnicity, religion, or age, which represent the highest percentage of the whole population, when compared to other similarly defined groups, but do not constitute more than 50% of the total population.
- Henry Watson Fowler suggested in 1965: "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., mA Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, 1965).
- Robert, Henry M. "Introduction to Robert's Rules" Robert's Rules of Order Revised. 4th ed. 1915. RulesOnline.com
- Poundstone, William (2008). Gaming the vote: why elections aren't fair (and what we can do about it). Hill and Wang. ISBN 978-0-8090-4893-9.