What Does By A Show of Hands Mean?

By a Show of Hands Meaning

Definition: A vote taken by the number of hands raised in the air.

This expression means to ask whoever is in the room to raise his or her hand in support of a topic. The number of raised hands is counted, with one hand equaling one vote. The side with the most votes wins.

This is an informal voting method most commonly used in small to medium sized groups. It is difficult to count individual hands with large groups unless there is overwhelming support for just one side, so a more formal method is used in such cases.

There are certain benefits to voting by show of hands: it is more precise than voting by voice and is less strenuous than voting by standing.

Origin of By A Show of Hands

a show of hands meaning Show of hands is said to be from 1789, although the source is unknown. It is certainly an old-fashioned method of voting that would have been common in local meetings before the advent of modern voting technology.

The earliest written recordings appear at the beginning of the 1900s.

Here is an example from the March 1905 edition of The Pacific Commercial Advertiser,

  • Dowsett seconded the motion, which carried 8 to 4 on a show of hands.

Examples of By A Show of Hands

define by show of hands In the modern day, it is still common for people to take votes by a show of hands. 

For example, one could say,

  • We polled everyone in the meeting, and, by a show of hands, we’ve decided to reinstate casual Fridays.

When asking a question, one could say,

  • By a show of hands, who thinks we should order pizza for dinner?

More Examples

  • By a show of hands at the beginning, the audience appeared to be slightly more pessimistic than optimistic about whether we can solve the fake news problem. –Columbia Journalism Review
  • When asked for a show of hands comparing the two plans, around half the room raised hands in favor of the first design. No one in attendance raised their hands in support of the second concept. –The Chaffee County Times


To hold a vote by a show of hands it to take a poll in favor of something or in opposition to something by raising one’s hand.