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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Tyranny of the Super-Majority: How Majority Rule Protects Minorities


This paper demonstrates that majority rule offers more protection to the worst-off minority than any other system, in that it maximizes the ability to overturn an unfavorable outcome. It is known (May 1952, Dahl 1956) that majority rule is the only decision rule that completely respects political equality. However, it is frequently argued that other decision rules (such as system of checks and balances, which are implicitly super-majoritarian) better serve the goals of protecting minorities rights and preserving stability. This paper argues that this trade-off is illusory and that majority rule actually provides most protection to minorities. Furthermore it does so precisely because of the instability inherent in majority rule, which overcomes the problem of majority tyranny.

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