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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
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 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
1  
@Daniel: 'regional'? Oh...-that- region. –  Mitch Apr 11 '11 at 13:14
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protected by RegDwigнt Feb 19 '12 at 13:59

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