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Being a big fan of fivethirtyeight.com, and political nerdishness in general, I have repeatedly run into a plural use of the singular nominal 'vote,' most often in the phrase 'percentage of vote.'

Examples:

I'm wondering if this is a back formation of the adjective, e.g., from 'vote percentage', or if there is a true and grammatically sensical reason for this. It seems like they are treating 'vote' as uncountable (which is amusing, given the authors' professions), and this seems possible in the deeply statistics heavy context in which I often encounter this, all large numbers being reduced to decimal representation in trend lines.

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    They're writing about the vote as a total, not the votes cast. Mar 25 at 13:48
  • @Yosef Baskin: Sorry, could you clarify?
    – KECG
    Mar 25 at 14:02
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    Do you have any examples that aren't "headlinese"? The Oxford one is harder to retro-engineer, but it strikes me that the Harvard one would be "... with 40% of the vote." This makes as much sense as "40% of the cake": "the vote" as a singular whole. (The Oxford example problematizes this by continuing with "cast by persons," though that doesn't totally rule out "the total vote cast by persons....") Mar 25 at 14:14
  • @Andy Bonner: I added another quote :), slightly less of a headline. I think I take your point though.
    – KECG
    Mar 25 at 14:24
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    The phrase "share of vote" seems common, especially in titles and labels, but often alternating with "vote share", "share of the vote", and "share of votes". It's not far from there to "percentage of vote".
    – Stuart F
    Mar 25 at 16:01

3 Answers 3

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I think this usage is most likely to have developed from the other collective or general senses of "vote", which appear to have existed from the start of the word's use, rather than from a modification of the individualized sense "one person's vote" (the sense found in most plural uses of "votes").

It doesn't seem to be particularly recent in origin: I was able to find this example from 1915:

The Recall of any elected official is made available on petition of 10 percent of vote cast for mayor at the preceding election.

("The Nation-Wide Movement for Municipal Efficiency Under Direct Popular Control", Equity, Volumes 17-18, edited by Charles Fremont Taylor, page 186)

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the word vote using the word "opinion", and it might be helpful to note that we likewise can speak of one person's opinion, people's opinions, or of common opinion shared by multiple people.

The OED's definition 3a of "vote" is

Collective approval or support in a deliberative decision or election; the choice expressed by a body of electors.

with examples such as

  • 1582 in D. Masson Reg. Privy Council Scotl. (1880) 1st Ser. III. 482 To beare the chargeis of provest, baillies, eldermen, and counsale of the said burgh, not being electit thairto be commoun consent and voit of the haill inhabitantis.

[...]

  • 1821 Ld. Byron Two Foscari v. i, in Sardanapalus 286 Why would the general vote compel me hither?

It's possible that some examples are simply typos or abbreviations of another wording, although it seems difficult to explain away the entirety of your examples in this way. Like some of the commenters beneath your question, I would find it more natural to say "Percentage of the total vote cast by...", which would be expressed in headlinese as "percentage of total vote cast by". The example in Binstock 2000 is not headlinese, but I find it interesting that the rest of the document seems to generally use "of votes" in similar contexts; I almost wonder whether we can rule out "Percentage of total vote" in this source being a typo for "Percentage of total votes".

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The noun vote is highly polysemous.

Merriam-Webster (amended below) gives (among others) three senses which are relevant here:

vote (Entry 2 of 2)

1a: a usually formal expression of opinion or will in response to a proposed decision especially: one given as an indication of approval or disapproval of a proposal, motion, or candidate for office

  • An Oregon City Schools operations levy appeared poised for defeat with 2,119 votes against and 1,630 votes in favor. — Kate Snyder

[It goes without saying that this usage is count.]

1b: the total number of such expressions of opinion made known at a single time (as at an election) — usually used with the

  • tallying the vote
  • The candidate won only 10 percent of the vote.

[This is almost invariably best seen as non-count.]

[...]

4a: the act or process of voting

  • Let's take a vote.
  • brought the question to a vote.
  • [The vote for the new mayor will take place next Thursday.]

[This seems usually to be used in the singular.]

This is the basic situation, and would be better seen in the question.


The Online Etymology Dictionary says

vote (n.)

  • mid-15c., "formal expression of one's wish or choice with regard to a proposal, candidate, etc.," from Latin votum "a vow, wish, promise to a god, solemn pledge, dedication," noun use of neuter of votus, past participle of vovere "to promise, dedicate" (see vow (n.)).
  • Meaning "totality of voters of a certain class or type" [1b above] is from 1888.
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All your examples are headlines, titles, or bullet points. These have their own style which is supposed to be "punchy". It is not a standard use.

In all of the examples we would expect "the vote", in which "the" is anaphoric and refers back to "that vote (i.e. the action of voting) that has previously been mentioned and of which we are all aware."

It is noticeable that in all the examples, in the main body of the text, it is "the vote" or some other determiner.

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    The first quote is in a sentence in the body of the paper: "Depending on the details, such a political context might substantially affect age-group turnout rates and thereby sharply alter the long-term patterns in percentage of total vote cast by particular age categories."
    – herisson
    Mar 25 at 17:47

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