Jeremy Corbyn and the number 3/4

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, was overwhelmingly defeated this week in a no-confidence vote: 40 votes for him, 172 against. That’s 81.1% against.

The press has been describing this fraction sometimes as “three-quarters”.  I heard that expression on Radio 4 when the vote was first announced, and here it is again in yesterday’s Economist: “Jeremy Corbyn has been rejected by three-quarters of his MPs”. In fact, 81.1% is between four-fifths and five-sixths.

The BBC and the Economist are not sloppy. We can assume their choice of words was intentional. I guess in their editorial judgment, “three-quarters” sounds like English and “four-fifths” sounds like statistics.

[1 July 2016]

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