What is the size of a ‘majority’?

The full US House of Representatives consists of 435 voting members. Currently there are 218 Republicans and 213 Democrats with four seats vacant.

So how should one describe the size of the Republican majority? The answer ‘five’ sounds reasonable since it is the difference between the numbers in the two parties. But many news articles, such as in this one, say it is ‘two’,

This is because if three Republicans decide to vote against their party on any issue and join with Democrats who all vote together, then the Republican party loses 215-216. So saying that the Republicans have a majority of two is shorthand for saying that the party can only afford two defections on an otherwise party line vote and still win.

It kind of makes sense but I don’t like it. If used that way, then a 218-216 or 218-217 margin would mean that they had no majority at all since they cannot afford even a single defection.


  1. billseymour says

    I’m kind of ho-hum about this since I expect innumeracy from the media.  Also, they tend to frame things in a way that makes their report scary because that often supplies more of their product (us) to their customers (advertisers).

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Nevermind, as long as the cruel bastards have insomnia over the fragile majority, I am -almost- content. What will really make me happy if a certain Gaetz gets his comeuppance, followed by enough resignations to shift the majority.

  3. Deepak Shetty says

    The majority is 5 -- While the Democrats have stayed united so far, there is nothing that states it will continue to be so. This is just the media with their oh which way will things go ? it’s so unpredictable -- here are a set of experts who believe it will be one way , here are the set of experts who believe it is the other -- Now fight!

  4. file thirteen says

    Of course it’s five. Four replicants (/s) could afford to go protesting outside abortion clinics not show up and the rest would still have a majority.

  5. Holms says

    They can afford two defections or four abstentions, because they have a majority of five. Duh. The political reporters and editors are just being innumerate again.

  6. seachange says

    Presumably, Democrats could also defect. Saying the margin is only two implies that no Democrat will under any circumstances ever defect ever. This seems unlikely? But Republicans defecting also seem unlikely.

    You are correct Mano. It’s fake news.

  7. KG says

    I’ve seen this odd way of describing the size of majority in a number of US media sources, and had assumed that was just another quaint Colonial custom like refusing to use metric measures and writing dates as month-day-year.

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