What Are Winner-Takes-All Elections?

by Amber Jones

Winner-takes-all elections, or plurality elections, are the most common elections in the United States. In this system, the winner of the election is the one who receives the most votes. These elections help ensure that the will of the majority prevails, but they also can leave the will of the minority underrepresented.

Definition

In a winner-takes-all election, the winner is the candidate who receives the largest number of votes cast. The United States adopted winner-takes-all voting from the British, where it is known as first-past-the-post. The main purpose of a winner-take-all system is to represent the will of the largest number of voters.

Voting

In the United States, single-member district plurality voting, or SMDP, is the most common type of election. In this system, all the candidates appear on the ballot, and voters indicate their choice for one of them. The winners do not need a majority of the votes, only a plurality of the votes cast. In presidential elections, 48 states have a winner-takes-all rule for the Electoral College. Nebraska and Maine do not follow the winner-takes all rule; they allot electoral votes based on the popular vote.

Advantages

The winner-takes all system ensures that the position of the largest number of voters is represented. Winner-takes all elections can lead to and reinforce a system of a few political parties, because it is hard for smaller parties to survive. Having fewer political parties can simplify voter choice.

Disadvantages

Because the candidate with the most votes wins, these elections tend to favor the positions of the largest number of people. As a result, there might be less representation of positions held by minoritiy populations.

About the Author

Amber Jones is a professional writer specializing in politics, current events, eduction and mental health. Jones holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology.

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