Absolute majority vs narrow majority

TOTO KAKA

Senior Member
Persian
Hello everyone

Would you please tell me the difference between "Absolute majority" and "Narrow majority"? Are they used to refer to a similar situation in elections?

Best wishes
 
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    An absolute majority simply means
    absolute majority
    n
    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
    A number of votes at 50.2% versus 49.8% wouyld be an absolute majority but a narrow one. A 70% versus 30% would not be a narrow majority.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Absolute majority" is rarely used. When it is used, it has a very different meaning from "narrow majority".

    In a first past the post election, if the winning candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, they have won an absolute majority. However, if there were more than two candidates, the winning candidate may get elected with far less than 50% of the vote.

    Consider a situation where there are four candidates. In scenario A, Alice, Bob and Charlie each get 24% of the vote, and Daisy gets 28% of the vote. Daisy wins by a narrow majority of 4%, but she does not have an absolute majority.

    In scenario B, Bob gets 52% of the vote, and Alice, Charlie and Daisy each get 16% of the vote. Bob has an absolute majority, but since he has won by 36% over his nearest rival, it isn't a narrow majority at all.

    In scenario C, Alice gets 51% of the vote, so she has an absolute majority. Charlie gets 47% of the vote, so you could say that Alice won by a narrow majority as well. Bob and Daisy each got 1% of the vote.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Consider a situation where there are four candidates. In scenario A, Alice, Bob and Charlie each get 24% of the vote, and Daisy gets 28% of the vote. Daisy wins by a narrow majority of 4%, but she does not have an absolute majority.
    In American news coverage, we call this a plurality and reserve majority for 50% plus one vote.

    WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English © 2019
    ma•jor•i•ty (mə jôri tē, -jor-), n., pl. -ties.
    1. the greater part or number;
      the number larger than half the total (opposed to minority):the majority of the population.
    2. Government a number of voters or votes, jurors, or others in agreement, constituting more than half of the total number.
    3. the amount by which the greater number, as of votes, surpasses the remainder (distinguished from plurality).
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Consider a situation where there are four candidates. In scenario A, Alice, Bob and Charlie each get 24% of the vote, and Daisy gets 28% of the vote. Daisy wins by a narrow majority of 4%, but she does not have an absolute majority.
    Is that really called a majority in BE? She certainly won by a fairly narrow margin.

    Even Collins has under "majority":
    (in an election) the number of votes or seats by which the strongest party or candidate beats the combined opposition or the runner-up.
    I read that to mean "in the case of more than two candidates is when the "combined" meaning applies, and when there are only two, then the "runner-up" meaning applies. It's been a long time since I have voted in the UK, so it's an honest quibble:) I need to keep my AE/BE bilingual status up to date!
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Also consider this scenario. Two parties are running that would normally form a coalition that makes up more than 50%. If one party wins an absolute majority that means they win more than 50% themselves and don't necessarily have to form a coalition.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Even Collins has under "majority":
    (in an election) the number of votes or seats by which the strongest party or candidate beats the combined opposition or the runner-up.
    The OED adds
    or which has the largest share of votes;
    And
    absolute majority n. [compare French majorité absolue (1789)] a majority comprising more than half of all votes cast or (rarely) more than half of the total number of registered voters; a government majority comprising more than half of all the seats in a legislature.
     
    Last edited:

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Thank you - a (nother) distinct difference between AE and BE (From Lexico Powered by Oxford)

    British The number by which the votes cast for one party or candidate exceed those for the next.
    ‘Labour retained the seat with a majority of 9,830’

    US The number by which votes for one candidate are more than those for all other candidates together.
    ‘Without this shift, Kerry would have had a popular majority of a million votes.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Is that really called a majority in BE? She certainly won by a fairly narrow margin.
    Certainly it is.

    You may be confusing two different meanings of "majority" in BrE:
    1. In a First Past the Post (FPTP) election of a single candidate, as is the case in British parliamentary elections, there may be any number of candidates, each elector has one vote, and the candidate with the highest number of votes wins. Since every British parliamentary seat (except, possibly, that of the speaker) is contested by at least three parties (often many more), it is common for the winning candidate to secure less than 50% of the vote. The difference number in votes or percentage of votes cast between them and the next highest candidate is termed their majority.
      Every MP must have a majority - there is no other way of getting elected (although I don't know what happens if there is a dead heat). However, they do not need an absolute majority.
    2. In a legislative assembly, such as the British House of Commons, if one party secures more seats than all opposition parties combined, then they have a majority, which is measured as the difference between their number of seats and the combined opposition parties' number of seats.
    My earlier post concerned use (1).

    As you may know, the current British government does not have a majority, and needs to rely on the votes of other parties to remain in power. Also, in Britain the issue is clouded by the speaker and deputy speakers not usually voting, and the seven Sinn Fein MPs not taking up their seats in Parliament because they refuse to swear the oath of allegiance. Therefore, although you would think to have a majority would require winning 326 seats (there are 650 seats in total), in practice a majority may be had with 320 seats. The Conservative party has 316 seats.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    You may be confusing two different meanings of "majority" in BrE:
    Yes I actually was confusing the two definitions in the BE dictionaries :) It is now cleared up and will require context, as usual, to determine which applies in any given use.
    The majority of people or things in a group is more than half of them.
    (Collins)
    in an election, the difference in the number of votes between the winningperson or group and the one that comes second:
    Cambridge
     
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