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What Is a Majority Rule?

The U.S. Constitution includes minority protections regarding majority rule.
In Austria, constitutional provisions require a supermajority of two-thirds of the votes cast.
For most legislation, winning a majority of the vote is enough to move a bill forward.
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  • Written By: L. Jablonsky
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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The concept of the majority rule dictates that a numerical majority can make a decision which will apply to all parties involved in the decision-making process. This principle places an emphasis on decision making rather than consensus within a group. The majority rule is employed in a number of settings, such as elections, board meeting votes, and legislative votes.

Many democratic societies use this rule in local and international elections. For example, the United States, a constitutional republic, utilizes this principle in its elections. In theses cases, there is only one winner. If a Republican and Democrat are running for a Congressional seat, the candidate with the most votes will win the seat.

Some decisions require more than a simple majority. For instance, if the president of the United States vetoes legislation passed by Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives may override the presidential veto with a two-thirds supermajority. Although the concept of a "supermajority" slightly differs from majority rule, which awards any numerical majority, the principle is still the same. There is one clear winner and one loser in the decision-making process.

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Majority rule does not apply to all democratic elections, however. It does not apply in countries with a proportional representation (PR) voting system. In a country with a PR system, district or parliamentary seats are allotted according to the percentage of votes. For example, if four political parties are competing for ten seats, the political party with 30 percent of the vote will win three out of the ten available seats.

Legislative branches in countries with the PR system may still employ the principle of the majority rule concerning the creation and passing of legislation, as well as changes to the national constitution. In Austria, a parliamentary democracy with a PR system, constitutional provisions require a supermajority of two-thirds of the votes cast.

Although proponents of democracy may claim that majority rule will ultimately benefit the greater public, others feel that the minority may be effectively marginalized. In his book Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of his concerns with the corrupting influence of power, suggesting that a group is as likely as an individual to misuse that power. Tocqueville's concerns are identified as a concept also known as the "tyranny of the majority."

In the United States, several minority protections are built into the Constitution. These rights protect national, ethnic, religious, and other minorities from the "tyranny of the majority." Regardless of decisions determined by the majority rule, they cannot violate the rights outlined in a nation's respective code or constitution.

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