Majority rule

« Back to Glossary Index

Majority rule is an example of an agreement within an organization or a society that governs how decisions that are binding on everyone shall be made. In the case of majority rule, choices are phrased in a yes/no (or option A, option B, option C) form and are put to a vote. The option (yes or no; A, B or C) that earns more half the votes becomes binding on everyone.

Majority rule is only one of many ways that societies can make decisions. A key distinction in this regard is the difference between decisions about laws and decisions about candidates for a political office. Most decisions about laws are yes/no choices. Decisions can be on the basis of a plurality vote (the largest vote, even if less than half), a majority vote, a super-majority vote (requiring a threshold much larger than 50 percent plus one), or consensus vote. By contrast, elections can potentially involve many candidates for one office. For this reason, there are many more different kinds of voting rules for elections in addition to plurality, majority, super-majority, and consensus. An extensive list of voting systems can be found here:

Members of minority factions, political, racial, or otherwise, often view majority and plurality rules as invitations to tyranny. The framers of the Constitution were mindful of this concern. Many aspects of the Constitution and its amendments were put in place specifically to avoid majority tyranny. Among these are the divided and shared powers in a republican form of government, a constrained federal government alongside largely unconstrained state governments, the rule of law, the Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments. Many of their arguments for and against these features were debated in the Federalist and Anti-federalist papers. See also our short courses, several of which address how the framers dealt with issues of distrust and tyranny.

« Back to Glossary Index
Scroll to Top