Majority Rule: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Majority Rule?
  • 1:05 Majority Rule In The U.S.
  • 2:20 Advantages
  • 3:30 Disadvantages
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

This lesson will help you understand the system of majority rule. We will briefly discuss what it means, how it is used in the United States and some of its advantages and disadvantages.

What is Majority Rule?

Five friends hanging out on a Friday night are trying to decide where they should go for dessert. Some of them want ice cream while others want frozen yogurt. When they put it to a vote, three vote for ice cream and two for frozen yogurt so the five friends head to the ice cream shop. Ice cream wins by the power of majority rule.

Majority rule is a decision-making system. In a choice or vote between two or more options, the option that wins over 50% of the vote wins. Although we use this strategy in daily life as in the ice cream/frozen yogurt dilemma, more often we think of majority rule in government. When a new law is voted on or a president is being elected we often use majority rule. The will of the majority of people is respected and controls the outcome almost all the time.

Majority rule is similar but slightly different from a plurality system. When a plurality system is used, the winning candidate only needs to win more votes than the other candidates. In a majority rule system a candidate needs to win over 50% of the overall vote.

Majority Rule in the United States

Majority rule is used in many democracies. Indeed, the United States has long used a majority system as the basis for political decision-making. For example, in order to be elected president of the United States, a candidate must achieve a majority of votes in the Electoral College. There are currently 538 electoral votes, so a candidate must win 270 electoral votes to be declared the winner and president.

Some presidents have been elected with less than a majority of the popular vote but had more electoral votes. This occurred a few times in presidential elections. One example is the election in the year 2000 involving George W. Bush and Al Gore. Gore actually won more popular votes but lost the election because he had fewer electoral votes.

Majority rule isn't the only system used in the United States. Interestingly, when we look at the make-up of the Electoral College, two states, Maine and Nebraska, have opted to use a version of proportional representation to allot their electoral votes. In California, for example, all of the electoral votes would go to one candidate. In Maine and Nebraska the electoral votes can be split between the candidates based on the proportionality of the vote.

Map of the number of electoral votes by state
map of electoral votes


One of the biggest advantages of majority rule is that decision-making is quick and clear. There is no need for compromise or negotiation after the decision has been made. The final decision is respected as the will of the majority of the people.

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