United States Electoral System
The electoral system in the United States is a relative majority system: the winner of an election is the one who receives more votes than any other candidate.
Example: Let’s say there are three candidates:
- Candidate A receives 25 percent.
- Candidate B receives 35 percent.
- Candidate C receives 40 percent.
Although 60 percent have voted against candidate C, he has received more votes than any other candidate and – in a relative majority system – wins the election.
Thus the relative majority system encourages a tactical voting technique (compromising) and usually results in a two party system.
Example: Let’s take our three candidates again. Imagine you are absolutely in favour of candidate A. Candidate B is okay. But you are totally against candidate C. If it were up to you, you would vote for candidate A, but then you read the opinion polls that say:
- A: 25 percent
- B: 35 percent
- C: 40 percent
Your favourite candidate A does not really have a serious chance of winning, but if you vote for him, candidate C will probably win the election. So the best thing is to make a compromise and vote for candidate B instead of A – B has a greater chance of winning than A, and you definitely don’t want candidate C to win.
As you can see in the example, if two candidates stand for similar ideas but act as competitors, they often lose the election to a third candidate with completely different views. Therefore, in a relative majority system it is always better if voters only have two options. This is the reason why there are only two major parties in the United States – the Democrats and the Republicans.
Since 1852 the United States President has been either a Democrat or a Republican. Although independent or third-party candidates do also run in elections, they do not have a realistic chance of winning. The problem is, however, that the Democratic or Republican candidate might lose votes to that third candidate.
Other terms used instead of relative majority are: plurality, Single Member District Plurality (official term in political science), winner take all or first past the post. The latter refers to an anology with horse racing.