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I was just told that:

What you call a consensus isn't a consensus, but a majority.

He implied that it was not a consensus because a few disagreed with the decision made. From my understanding, consensus does not require unanimity. For example, when we talk about a scientific consensus, there might be a few dissenters, but not many.

Is that correct?

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IMO, consensus implies a rather vast majority, while majority just means anything more than fifty percent. – Peter Olson Apr 11 '11 at 3:25
@Peter Agreed -- I think of consensus as "nearly complete" agreement. – jbelacqua Apr 11 '11 at 5:49
Sounds like an ideological debate... so your reply is (if accurate) something like "OK, if you like, overwhelming majority" – jbelacqua Apr 11 '11 at 5:52
@jgbelacqua: It isn't. It was a normal conversation, but my interlocutor got stuck on my use of the word consensus for some odd reason. – Borror0 Apr 11 '11 at 17:54
Ha. Well, I've been guilty of such obsessiveness myself, I suppose. In any case, I think that your understanding (of the usage) appears to be correct. – jbelacqua Apr 11 '11 at 17:58
up vote 8 down vote accepted

While consensus is not necessarily a unanimous stance, it is usually a vast majority - nearing complete agreement. I would expect a rate of 80% or more if someone said that an opinion was consensus.

Majority simply means the larger part. That is why a lot of companies have an owner with a majority share of 51%; so that under any circumstances they will always own the larger part of the company. It doesn't matter that the difference is so small (51-49% is just 2%) - if it is larger, it is a majority.

Hope that helps.

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Consensus means "general agreement," while majority means "the greater number."

The NOAD reports the following note, about the usage of majority.

Majority means more than half: fifty-one out of a hundred is a majority. A plurality is the largest number among three or more. Consider the following scenarios: If Anne received 50 votes, Barry received 30, and Carlos received 20, then Anne received a plurality, and no candidate won a majority. If Anne got 35 votes, Barry 14, and Carlos 51, then Carlos won both the plurality and the majority .

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Could you explain what NOAD is? – Emre Apr 11 '11 at 6:48
New Oxford American Dictionary. Basically, the regional (incorrect ;)) version of the Oxford English Dictionary. – Dan Hanly Apr 11 '11 at 9:21
@Daniel: 'regional'? Oh...-that- region. – Mitch Apr 11 '11 at 13:14

You are right that consensus does not necessarily imply unanimity.

ISO, IEC, CEN, CENELEC, and various national standards bodies use the following definition of consensus for the purposes of standardization and related activities:

general agreement, characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments
NOTE Consensus need not imply unanimity.

(This definition might be applicable to meta-discussions of Stack Exchange websites, too.)

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