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In its narrow sense, this term refers to the minimum proportion of the vote required to gain representation in an assembly under any given electoral formula . This is particularly important in proportional systems because the threshold affects the number of small parties which can gain representation (see proportional representation ).
It can also be used more broadly to indicate the minimum proportion of votes, or the minimum number of seats, which must be won before a party can gain representation under an electoral system. Under the German MMP system, for example, a party must win 5 percent of the votes or gain representation from three electoral districts before its vote share can be matched by the appropriate proportion of seats. These rules are designed to prevent the representation of very small parties.