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What is a Minority Whip?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A minority whip is a person in the legislature who assists the minority party leader in the House or Senate with keeping the party's votes consistent and ensuring that people attend important votes. He or she is a high ranking individual in the overall structure of the party and a key member of the legislature. In regions where party unity is critical to political success, such as the United Kingdom, people in this position can have significant political power.

The term “whip” has its origins in fox hunting. Whips are members of the hunt staff who are responsible for keeping the hounds in order and focused together. If hounds attempt to split off from the pack or the pack becomes disorganized, the whippers-in, as they are also known, redirect the hounds under the direction of the hunt leader. Whips in legislature serve a similar function, working under the majority or minority leader to keep members of the party focused and on task.

One important part of a minority whip's role is ensuring that members of the party vote consistently. Party unity can be important for a party in the political minority because otherwise it may have difficulty achieving political goals. The whip's work can include circulating information about upcoming votes, meeting with people within the party to resolve disputes and work out agreements, and also communicating with the majority whip to discuss possible compromises and concessions.

Members of the legislature are not required to be continuously present in the legislative chamber. This is where another aspect of a minority whip's job comes in. He or she must ensure that members of the party are present for key votes. This can include rounding up legislators when the opposition calls a vote abruptly. Whips make sure that their charges know when votes are scheduled and are aware of key votes that they must be present for.

When the minority leader is not present, the whip is considered the acting floor leader. Floor leaders are offered certain courtesies in Congress, such as preference when they want to speak. Typically, this person has a team of assistants who help out with various tasks and ensure that the whip is never caught unawares by events on the floor of the legislature. Staffers develop briefings discussing pending legislature, rumors about agreements being reached off the floor, and other information that may be relevant to the job.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On Aug 02, 2011

@kentuckycat and Emilski you are both right in your points as far as importance goes for the perspective whips. However, I have to agree with kentuckycat in that the minority whip has more importance than the majority whip.

The minority whip not only has to ensure that their entire party votes the same way, he or she has to make sure that they all vote. When a party has a minority the disadvantage of losing people to a vote is that much greater. In order to ensure that their voices are heard as a party, the minority party has to really show that they are more united than the majority and try to take away the majorities’ one big advantage.

Because of the difficulty it is just to unite a large group of people with idealistic personalities, as you would see in the political world, it makes the minority whips' job that much harder in order to ensure that their voices are heard and that they can win whatever votes on issues they can.

By Emilski — On Aug 02, 2011

@kentuckycat I understand the point you are trying to make but in politics it has always been my understanding that with greater numbers comes greater responsibility.

With greater numbers the majority whip has more people to control and more "rogues" they have to deal with. If the majority party is not a major majority, say it's only a 51% majority; the majority whip has to ensure that they do not lose the majority vote to the minority party.

I agree that the minority whip has a very difficult and important job in trying to combat the powers of the majority but the majority whip has a lot more responsibility due to having the duty in ensuring they hold that power while voting.

By kentuckycat — On Aug 01, 2011

@Emilski I understand your point saying how the majority whip has more people to control and watch over, but the minority whip has those numbers working against him or her.

If a vote is being divided very close down party lines the minority has to make sure they get as many party members as possible to vote their way on the issue. Because the numbers are working against them the minority whip has to make sure he gets as many party members as possible to not just vote, but make sure they vote the way the party wants too.

Now, the majority whip does have to deal with a few "rogues" or those who vote against the party, but because of their majority in numbers the majority whip has more lee way than the minority whip who does not have that luxury.

By Emilski — On Jul 31, 2011

@kentuckycat Although the minority whip is very important the majority whip has to be a more important political title. Even though the majority party has a majority of the voting power the minority whip does not have to ensure as many people vote on the particular issue at hand.

Due to the numbers the majority party has there is that much more drama and dissent among their ideas behind the scenes. Although the minority whip does have a very important job the majority whip has the bigger task to fill in order to ensure that the majority party still keeps a majority of the votes.

By kentuckycat — On Jul 30, 2011

The minority whip is a very important position in the political arena. In today's world, at least in the United States, partisan politics is the hot point of every issue and in order for the minority party to ensure their voices are heard they must, in essence, be more united together than the majority party.

This makes the minority whips' job that much more important as he or she is in charge of uniting the party and ensuring members vote in order to combat the majority party's voting totals.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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