What is a Majority Rule?

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  • Written By: L. Jablonsky
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 16 May 2020
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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.

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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Post 4

The "tyranny of the majority" seems to be a risk in almost every type of system. Even in countries with proportional representation, if a single party wins most of the votes, that party has most of the say and can basically pass any law they want. If the president, which has the option of voting against laws, belongs to the same party, then the system literally turns into a dictatorship. There is a potential of abuse in every system.

Post 3

@fBoyle-- We are lucky because the founders taught about these issues in detail. As the article said, we have protections in the constitution that prevent the majority from abusing their power. It's what we call checks and balances of the different branches of government. In countries where these protections do not exist however, majority rule can be a major problem.

Post 2

Unfortunately, none of these systems function perfectly in every circumstance.

Of course, when there can only be one winner, there have to be some losers. When someone is selected with the majority rule, it can mean that up to 49% of the voters voted for the other person. Because that's the majority rule, if one has 49% of the votes, and the other 51%, the latter has one. That means that almost half of the voters end up having no representation. That doesn't quite sound like a fair system to me.

Now if the results are different, such as the majority vote being 80% or 90%, it's not much of a problem. So whether this system works well and satisfies those represented through the process depends on the numbers. That's how I see it anyway.

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