The Plurality Method in Elections

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  • 0:03 Introduction to Plurality
  • 0:32 Plurality Rules
  • 2:16 Fairness Criterion
  • 4:23 Example Problem
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

The plurality method of voting is the most common form of voting in the U.S. The basic principle is that the candidate with the most votes wins; however, there really is more to it than that.

Introduction to Plurality

Have you ever wondered how voting works? Does the winner have to have the majority of the votes, which means more than fifty percent? Or can the winner just have more votes than anyone else, which is actually called the plurality of votes?

There are many different types of voting methods; however, in this lesson we will discuss the most commonly known method in the U.S. - plurality. We will also compare this method to the two most commonly used standards of fairness in voting.

Plurality Rules

So, plurality simply means a large number or amount. In the plurality voting method, the candidate or option with the most votes wins. That's it. It's really simple.

Voters need only to select the single candidate or option that they wish to win in the election. In some voting methods, voters list the candidates in order of preference -- this method of voting is discussed in other lessons. After all the ballots are selected, the votes are tallied, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

For example, let's say there are a total of 356 voters with three candidates. To become the majority candidate, a candidate must receive more than fifty percent of the votes, or at least 178 votes here. Often, this is what we think of when we think majority rules, or majority wins!

In this example, the voting breakdown is as follows: Smith received 150 votes, Jones earned 155, and Brown won 51 votes. But, no one got at least 178 votes. Does this mean there was no winner?

The plurality method of voting allows for a candidate to win the election without actually winning the majority of the votes. This is called a plurality candidate. Remembering the definition of plurality from before, we see that the plurality candidate is just the candidate with the largest number of votes. It is possible for a candidate to win without receiving support from half the voters. However, if there are only two candidates, then the plurality candidate is also the majority candidate. Logically, if there are only two choices and one gets more votes than the other, the winner must have received more than half the votes.

Fairness Criterion

As I mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, there are two common standards of fairness that you can use to evaluate any form of voting.

The first is the majority criterion, which states if a candidate has a majority of the votes, then the candidate should win the race.

This is not the same as majority rule, which states that a candidate cannot win the race unless that candidate has a true majority of the votes.

The plurality method does satisfy the majority criterion, because if a candidate were to get a majority of the votes, then it is clear that the candidate received the MOST votes and should win.

The next criterion of fairness is called the Condercet criterion, and it refers to the standard that the preferred candidate would still win if they had a head-to-head comparison with any other candidate.

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