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Teaching

Representation: Majority rule

Parliamentary lesson plan – Representation: Majority rule [PDF 147kb, 3 pages]

Most decisions in parliament are based upon the principle of majority rule—the rule that requires more than half of the members who cast a vote to agree in order for the entire group to make a decision on the measure being voted on.

In this lesson students explore various forms of decision making including majority rule, executive, consensus and autocracy (as well as exploring the power of veto), when they debate a bill in a class parliament.

Outcomes

Students will:

  • understand why majority rule is used in parliament
  • participate in a role-play in which a bill is used to explore four different methods of decision making
  • understand the terms consensus, majority rule, veto and autocracy.

Focus questions

  • Why do many governing bodies use majority rule to make decisions? (to ensure support for the decision)
  • Why do some decision making bodies seek consensus? (to hear all opinions and to maintain relations)
  • Why might autocracy succeed? (to limit power to an individual or small group)

Concept words

  • Majority rule
  • Autocrat
  • Autocracy
  • Consensus
  • Two-party system
  • Veto
  • Bill
  • Compromise
  • Decision
  • Polity
  • Body politic

Getting started

  1. Start the discussion by eliciting different forms of decision making. (majority rule, consensus, autocracy, power of veto etc.)
  2. Brainstorm several examples of each. (majority rule may be used by sporting clubs, consensus by some families and classrooms, autocracy by some countries and many private businesses and veto by the American President and some families and classrooms etc.)
  3. What form of decision making does the federal Parliament use? (majority rule)

Main activity

  1. Tell students that they will debate a bill to introduce military conscription in Australia and use four decision making systems to decide the issue.
  2. Define military conscription and discuss related issues.
  3. Arrange classroom chairs in a circle and appoint a chairperson to manage the debate.
  4. Have the chairperson select speakers by asking students who wish to speak to stand.
  5. Conclude the debate, and lead the quick decision making scenarios in the table at the bottom of the page.

Debrief

  1. What form of decision making was most efficient?
  2. Was it difficult to reach a consensus? Why? What difference would 60 students or 120 students make to this method?
  3. What form of decision making was most fair? Least fair?
  4. What justification might the vetoer or autocrat have for their roles?
  5. Is there a best decision making system? Why? Why not?

Parliamentary context

  • How is government formed in the Australian Parliament? (the party or coalition of parties with the support of the majority in the House of Representatives becomes government)
  • Why does the Parliament use majority rule rather than consensus for passing laws?
  • After the 2010 election a minority government was formed. How did this occur? How does a minority government change decision making?
  • Are there grounds for enforcing a consensus or perhaps a 2/3 majority in parliament? What decisions might warrant this?
  • Are there national issues that should be decided by consensus? Are there issues that should be decided by a smaller group?

Extension activities

  • Majority rule tends to lead to a two-party system. Discuss in 300 words the advantages and disadvantages of this method of forming government and opposition.
  • In 300 words, argue for greater consensual decision making in Australia.
Decision making scenarios
Decision methodScenario actionResult
Autocratic decision Randomly select an autocrat to decide.  
Executive decision Determine a small executive (two or three people) to decide.  
Majority decision Open ballot: Conduct a vote with a show of hands. The majority decides.

Secret ballot: Conduct a vote by writing on a piece of paper. Then have someone count the votes and declare the outcome.
 
Consensus decision Elicit compromise positions until the most favourable is determined. Consensus decides.  
Veto decision Give yourself (as the teacher) the power to veto the consensus decision!  

Useful tools

Definitions

Autocracy: a system of government where one person, the autocrat, has complete power.

Veto power: a person or group having power to turn down a proposal or make executive decisions one way or another.

Consensus: general agreement among the members of a given group or community, each of which exercises some discretion in decision making and follow-up action.

Executive: a branch of government or local authority.

Compromise: a mutual promise to abide by a decision.

Decision: a resolution, making up one's mind.

Documents and resources