A plurality vote (in North America) or relative majority (in the United Kingdom) describes the circumstance when a candidate or proposition polls more votes than any other, but does not receive a majority. For example, if 100 votes were cast, including 45 for Candidate A, 30 for Candidate B and 25 for Candidate C, then Candidate A received a plurality of votes but not a majority. In some votes, the winning candidate or proposition may have only a plurality, depending on the rules of the organization holding the vote.
In international institutional law, a "simple majority" (also a "majority") vote is more than half of the votes cast (disregarding abstentions) among alternatives; a "qualified majority" (also a "supermajority") is a number of votes above a specified percentage (e.g. two-thirds); a "relative majority" (also a "plurality") is the number of votes obtained that is greater than any other option; and an "absolute majority" is a number of votes "greater than the number of votes that possibly can be obtained at the same time for any other solution", when voting for multiple alternatives at a time.
Henry Watson Fowler suggests that the American terms "plurality" and "majority" offer single-word alternatives for the corresponding two-word terms in British English, "relative majority" and "absolute majority", and that in British English "majority" is sometimes understood to mean "receiving the most votes" and can therefore be confused with "plurality". William Poundstone observes that systems which allow choosing by a plurality of votes are more vulnerable to the spoiler effect—where two or more similar choices each draw fewer votes than a dissimilar choice that would have lost to any individual similar choice on its own—than systems which require a majority.
- For example, 50 voters elect six office holders from a field of 11 candidates, thereby casting 300 votes. The largest absolute majority in this scenario would be 50 voters casting all their ballots for the same six candidates, which at 300 votes would be substantially higher than the simple majority of 151 votes—a result that no individual candidate can achieve, since the most votes any one can receive is 50. With the smallest absolute majority in this scenario, the six winners would receive 28 votes each, totaling 168, and the runners-up would receive either 27 or 26 votes each.
- An "absolute majority" can also mean a "majority of the entire membership", a voting basis that requires that more than half of all the members of a body (including those absent and those present but not voting) to vote in favour of a proposition in order for it to be passed.
- "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..." —Henry Watson Fowler
- Fowler, Henry Watson (1965). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 725. ISBN 0199535345.
- "plurality". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2015-12-29.
a number of votes that is more than the number of votes for any other candidate or party but that is not more than half of the total number of votes
- Robert, Henry M. III; Honemann, Daniel H.; Balch, Thomas J. (2011). Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised (11 ed.). Da Capo Press. pp. 404–405. ISBN 9780306820212.
- Schermers, Henry G.; Blokker, Niels M. (2011). International Institutional Law: Unity Within Diversity (5 ed.). Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 9004187987.
- Poundstone, William (2009). Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It). New York: Macmillan. p. 352. ISBN 9781429957649.