Plurality vs. Majority-based Elections

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  • 0:01 Elections
  • 0:46 Plurality Voting
  • 2:02 Majority Voting and Runoffs
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll imagine the election of a high school class president using two different election systems. We'll focus on the difference between plurality and majority-based elections and explain when run-off voting is used.

Elections

Violeta, Mark, and Alice are each candidates in a school election. They anxiously await the word to hear about who will win the position of class president.

The votes have been counted. Mark has 30% of the vote, Alice has 25% of the vote, and Violeta has 45% of the vote. Who won the election? Depending on the voting system used for the school election, it may not be who you think it would be. In this lesson, we'll discuss the differences between a plurality-based voting system and a majority-based voting system. You'll also find out who won this particular school election.

Plurality Voting

If the school is using a plurality-based voting system, the answer is easy: Violeta, who has the greatest percentage of the votes, wins. In a plurality voting system, a candidate may be elected with less than a majority of the vote. Plurality voting systems typically operate based on a concept called first past the post, which refers to a particular candidate who has the most votes compared with others.

Based on a first past the post plurality election system, even if Violeta had only 20% of the vote, if every other candidate had less than that, 1%, 2%, 3%, or up to 19%, she could still win this election. There would have to be a lot of candidates to make that happen, but a candidate can win even with a small percentage of the vote as long as it is the highest percentage compared with other candidates.

This system is very common for nations influenced by the United Kingdom, and is the method used in the majority of elections in the United States. It plays a role in the likelihood that there will be one party that dominates most of the government, rather than a range of parties represented. It's also the form of election you would expect to see in a school election.

Majority Voting and Runoffs

But this school election is a bit different. They're trying something new this year to determine who the class president will be. Instead of a plurality-based election, this election will use a majority voting system. This system requires a candidate to receive more than 50% of the vote.

In both the plurality and majority systems, the candidate with the most votes will win, but in a majority voting system, this could take more than one election if no one wins the majority in the first case. So, in the case of Mark with 30% of the vote, Alice with 25%, and Violeta with 45%, Mark and Violeta will go on to a second election and voters will have a chance to choose between them.

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