Majority voting threatens minority interests

  • A group of people with a vulnerable minority is better served by decisions made by consensus than by a majority vote, says a study

Shijith Kunhitty
Updated16 Mar 2021
Muslim voters hold up their inked fingers after casting their vote for the Lok Sabha elections in Jehanabad on Thursday. Photo: PTI <br />
Muslim voters hold up their inked fingers after casting their vote for the Lok Sabha elections in Jehanabad on Thursday. Photo: PTI

Democracies are based on the choice of the majority in decision-making. But the majority’s choice often results in decisions that are harmful for the minority. A study finds that people generally prefer majority voting, but if there’s a vulnerable minority present, they prefer a consensus approach over voting.

The study, by Alexander Bor of Aarhus University, Denmark, and others, is based on a survey of around 700 people from India, Denmark, Hungary, Russia and the US. Participants were asked to rate different methods of making decisions in a set of given scenarios.

For example, one scenario was about a group of 10 people deciding where to have dinner. Seven wanted to eat at a Japanese sushi restaurant, but the other three had fish allergies and wanted to go to an Italian restaurant instead. Participants were asked to rate four methods: voting, consensus, unilateral leadership, and chance.

In the first case, the group chooses the restaurant that gets most votes. The second method involves a debate till everyone agrees on one choice. Unilateral leadership refers to one person choosing the restaurant for the entire group, while the last method involves a random choice.

The results show that participants preferred voting if there wasn’t a vulnerable minority present. The average rating across participants for voting was 54%, compared to 25% for consensus. But when there was a vulnerable minority involved, participants preferred consensus for making collective decisions. Here, the average rating for voting dropped to 23% but the average rating for consensus rose to 51%.

If a minority could be harmed by the outcome of voting, groups might see the method as lacking legitimacy and unfit for deciding divisive issues. For such matters, consensus is seen as protecting minority interests better.

Also read: “When Should the Majority Rule? Experimental Evidence for Madisonian Judgments in Five Cultures”

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