If there is a political proposition with three alternatives and the leading alternative, that is to say that which command the most support, does not have 50% or more support can that alternative be described as commanding a majority?

Or is a majority strictly defined as having 50% or more support?

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    Voted to close for lack of research because the answer provided clearly shows that the Q. could be answered by consulting a standard dictionary. – TrevorD Apr 8 '19 at 13:33
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    Americans in particular use the term plurality to mean the part of a group of people voting that is the largest part, but not larger than the total number of other people voting. They didn't actually get the "majority" of the votes (which always means more than 50%), but they were still the winners. – FumbleFingers Apr 8 '19 at 13:33
  • @TrevorD: can you then suggest what word is appropriate for a three way split? Most dictionary definitions seem to imply a two way split. So actually this question is more nuanced than your vote to close supposes. – S Meaden Apr 8 '19 at 13:36
  • What's wrong with the word used in your title: the leading group (or whatever)? Some would argue that "alternative" is also wrong because it implies a choice between only two groups. – TrevorD Apr 8 '19 at 13:44
  • @TrevorD: accepting answer below as poster has found the term 'relative majority'. – S Meaden Apr 8 '19 at 13:46

According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary :


a number or percentage equaling more than half of a total

// a majority of voters

// a two-thirds majority

Though in the special political context there are two terms: relative majority and absolute majority.

According to Collin's Dictionary :

Relative majority

the excess of votes or seats won by the winner of an election over the runner-up when no candidate or party has more than 50 per cent.

Absolute majority

a number of votes totalling over 50 per cent, such as the total number of votes or seats obtained by a party that beats the  combined  opposition.

  • Relative majority, superb work! collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/relative-majority – S Meaden Apr 8 '19 at 13:45
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    Worth noting Relative Majority is British English. – S Meaden Apr 10 '19 at 7:42
  • Just a clarification: does relative majority refer to the winning alternative party, or to the excess of votes that enabled them to win? – Mitch Apr 10 '19 at 13:30
  • The relative majority party usually wins. – user307254 Apr 10 '19 at 13:54

The word plurality means, in the context of voting,

3c a number of votes cast for a candidate in a contest of more than two candidates that is greater than the number cast for any other candidate but not more than half the total votes cast

This answers your question directly - 'plurality' is used purposefully in distinction to 'majority' which is a half or more. So, no, you cannot use majority for any amount less than a half.

This seems not to be used in the UK, but is exactly what is used in the US. I have no idea on other anglophone communities (AusE, NZE, SAE, etc.)

  • I'm British, and I have never heard of this. I am very happy with accepted answer instead. Do you think you might edit your answer to say this is the American English perspective? – S Meaden Apr 10 '19 at 9:14
  • @SMeaden Oh sure. But likewise for 'relative majority', that's just not a meaningful term in the US. – Mitch Apr 10 '19 at 12:15
  • The first instances of plurality in the sense of "largest minority" that I encountered were in U.S. Supreme Court opinions in which no opinion drew the support of at least five justices (judges) but in which at least five justices concurred in the result announced in the plurality opinion. In such cases it is actually possible for the plurality opinion not to be the largest minority opinion—if, say, three justices sign on to an opinion that reaches decision X for reason A, two justices sign on to one that reaches decision X for reason B, and four justices oppose decision X for reason C. ... – Sven Yargs Apr 10 '19 at 17:58
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    ... I wonder whether the U.S. sense of plurality as "largest minority" evolved from the U.S. legal term plurality meaning "most broadly supported of the opinions written in favor of a result favored by a majority of the court." – Sven Yargs Apr 10 '19 at 17:58
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    Plurality is definitely used in the UK; Collins has a 'US' tag for the sense "number of votes gained when less than the total votes for the other candidates", but no such tag (and an example using the Conservatives) for "more support than the other candidate, party or idea", which is actually what OP asked about. The OED is (inevitably) less clear, having one sense orig. Scottish and OPs sense orig. and chiefly US. – Tim Lymington Apr 10 '19 at 22:21

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