POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Election Threshold

An election threshold is the minimum share of votes that a party or candidate must obtain in order to gain seats within a legislature. In electoral systems such as first past the past, there is no election threshold. This is because candidates only needs to win the most number of votes in their respective constituency, not a specific percentage of the total vote.

However, there are other electoral systems which do require successful candidates to receive a minimum percentage of the total vote. One such example is in party list proportional representation systems where the seats won by a party in a legislature are proportional to their total share of the vote. Countries such as Germany, which employs this system, require parties to achieve a minimum of 5% of the total vote share in order to gain seats in the Bundestag - the German lower house of parliament. Thus, if a party only gains 4.8% of the nationwide vote, as the Free Democratic Party did in 2013, they will not be allocated any seats.

Advocates of employing an election threshold argue that it contributes to maintaining the stability of a political system by excluding fringe or extremist parties from parliament. However, its detractors argue that such exclusion fails to reflect the diversity of opinion in a democratic society.

See also: Proportional Vote, Legislature, First Past The Post

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