U.S. Senate Elections and Plurality WinsAlthough the first-past-the-post, plurality method of voting is by far the dominant voting system in the United States, it is not without error. One of the most common defects in this voting system is that it can elect a candidate into office who did not actually win a majority of the vote. This apparent contradiction is due to the fact that achieving a mere plurality, meaning gaining more votes than any other candidate without actually getting 50% or more of the votes, is all that is needed to win. Many are familiar with plurality winners in presidential races. Bill Clinton, for example, won the presidency in 1992 with only 43% of the national vote and with a majority win in only his home state of Arkansas, but U.S. Senate races have also been marked by plurality winners. The number of plurality victories in Senate races has been increasing in recent decades, with some races likely tipped to one candidate only because voters "wasted" their vote on an independent or minor party candidate.
View charts summarizing available data on plurality wins in the U.S. Senate.
Read an analysis of the significance of plurality wins in U.S. Senate elections.