1978 New Zealand general election

Last updated

1978 New Zealand general election
Flag of New Zealand.svg
  1975 25 November 1978 (1978-11-25) 1981  

All 92 seats of the New Zealand House of Representatives
47 seats were needed for a majority
 First partySecond partyThird party
  Muldoon 1978.jpg Bill Rowling, 1962.jpg Bruce Craig Beetham.jpg
Leader Robert Muldoon Bill Rowling Bruce Beetham
Party National Labour Social Credit
Leader since 9 July 1974 6 September 1974 1972
Leader's seat Tamaki Tasman Rangitīkei
Last election55 seats, 47.6%32 seats, 39.6%0 seats, 7.4%
Seats before54321
Seats won51401
Seat changeDecrease2.svg 3Increase2.svg 8Steady2.svg
Popular vote680,991691,076274,756
SwingDecrease2.svg 7.8%Increase2.svg 0.8%Increase2.svg 8.7%

Prime Minister before election

Robert Muldoon

Elected Prime Minister

Robert Muldoon

The 1978 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to elect the 39th New Zealand Parliament. It saw the governing National Party, led by Robert Muldoon, retain office, but the opposition Labour Party won the largest share of the vote. Reorganisation of the enrolment system caused major problems with the electoral rolls, which left a legacy of unreliable information about voting levels in this election.

39th New Zealand Parliament

The 39th New Zealand Parliament was a term of the Parliament of New Zealand which began with the general election held on 25 November 1978, and finished with the general election held on 28 November 1981. The dates of the Muldoon Ministry were from 13 December 1978 to 11 December 1981.

New Zealand National Party Major New Zealand political party

The New Zealand National Party, shortened to National or the Nats, is a centre-right political party in New Zealand. It is one of two major parties that dominate contemporary New Zealand politics, alongside its traditional rival, the New Zealand Labour Party.

Robert Muldoon Prime Minister of New Zealand, politician

Sir Robert David Muldoon, also known as Rob Muldoon, was a New Zealand politician who served as the 31st Prime Minister of New Zealand, from 1975 to 1984, while Leader of the National Party.



The National Party had won a resounding victory in the 1975 elections, taking fifty-five of the eighty-seven seats and ousting the Labour Party from government. Labour had been led by Bill Rowling, who had assumed the post of Prime Minister on the death in office of the popular Norman Kirk. Labour won the remaining thirty-two seats in that election, with no other parties gaining entry to Parliament.

1975 New Zealand general election

The 1975 New Zealand general election was held on 29 November to elect MPs to the 38th session of the New Zealand Parliament. It was the first general election in New Zealand where 18- to 20-year-olds and all permanent residents of New Zealand were eligible to vote, although only citizens were able to be elected.

The New Zealand Labour Party, or simply Labour, is a centre-left political party in New Zealand. The party's platform programme describes its founding principle as democratic socialism, while observers describe Labour as social-democratic and pragmatic in practice. It is a participant of the international Progressive Alliance.

Bill Rowling Prime Minister of New Zealand, politician, teacher

Sir Wallace Edward Rowling, often known as Bill Rowling, was a New Zealand politician who was the 30th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1974 to 1975. He held office as the parliamentary leader of the Labour Party.

Labour's Rowling had been criticised by many for inadequately countering Muldoon's confrontational style, and was widely perceived as "weak". Following Labour's defeat, there had been speculation about replacing Rowling as leader of the party, but Rowling retained his position. Gradually, as some people wearied of Muldoon's style, Rowling's more reserved manner was held up as an asset rather than a weakness, and Labour began to gain a certain amount of traction again. Economic troubles hurt the government, and its reputation had fallen. Muldoon remained a powerful opponent, however, and was regarded as a strong campaigner.

Not long before the 1978 election, a by-election in Rangitikei caused considerable comment when it introduced a third party to Parliament: Bruce Beetham, leader of the Social Credit Party. Although other parties dismissed Social Credit's success as a fluke, Beetham predicted a great future for the party.

Bruce Beetham New Zealand politician

Bruce Craig Beetham was an academic and politician from New Zealand, whose career spanned the 1970s and early 1980s.

The New Zealand Social Credit Party was a political party which served as the country's "third party" from the 1950s through into the 1980s. The party held a number of seats in the Parliament of New Zealand, although never more than two at a time. It has since renamed itself the New Zealand Democratic Party, and was for a time part of the Alliance.

Electoral changes


In 1975 several reforms had been made to the electoral system. These included combining the re-enrolment process with the taking of the 1976 census and replacing existing Justice Department registrars with electorate officers appointed from Post Office Staff. They would work in conjunction with Statistics Department and Electoral Office staff, and at the same time, a switch would be made from a manual to a computerised system.

Census Acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population

A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common censuses include agriculture, business, and traffic censuses. The United Nations defines the essential features of population and housing censuses as "individual enumeration, universality within a defined territory, simultaneity and defined periodicity", and recommends that population censuses be taken at least every 10 years. United Nations recommendations also cover census topics to be collected, official definitions, classifications and other useful information to co-ordinate international practice.

A report completed in 1979 found that there had been poor liaison between the various departments involved, staff shortages and problems with the computer system. However, the main problem arose from the decision to combine re-enrolment with the 1976 census. Many voters had been confused by the need to re-enrol only a year after the previous election, and many had not bothered to fill out their forms. Census staff had not been given the authority to insist on the card being completed. [1]

To avoid disenfranchising a significant portion of the electorate, the Chief Electoral Officer decided just to carry forward many old voter registrations in the hope that duplications and outdated enrolments would be purged later. However, not enough staff were provided to complete that in time, and by the time that the rolls closed, 35,000 forms remained unprocessed.

It has been estimated that as many as 460,000 enrolments may have been outdated or duplicates. Many voters (even candidates) found themselves enrolled in the wrong electorate or off the roll completely, and others were enrolled in multiple electorates or several times in the same electorate. That means that accurate figures for electoral turnout are impossible to determine, and other figures may not be reliable. [2]

Electoral redistribution

The 1977 electoral redistribution was the most overtly political since the Representation Commission had been established by an amendment to the Representation Act in 1886, initiated by Muldoon's National Government. [3] That a large number of people failed to fill out an electoral re-registration card had little practical effect for the electoral redistribution for people on the general roll, but it transferred Māori to the general roll if the card was not handed in. Together with a northward shift of New Zealand's population, that resulted in five new electorates having to be created in the upper part of the North Island. [1]

The electoral redistribution was very disruptive, and 22 electorates were abolished (see list below), and 27 electorates were newly created or re-established. In the North Island, fifteen electorates were newly created (Albany, East Cape, Eastern Hutt, Helensville, Horowhenua, Hunua, Kaimai, Matamata, Ōhāriu, Papakura, Papatoetoe, Pencarrow, Rangiriri, Tarawera, and Te Atatū) and six electorates were re-created (Bay of Islands, Kaipara, Taranaki, Waipa, Waitakere, and Waitotara). In the South Island, two electorates were newly created (Otago and Yaldhurst) and four electorates were re-created (Ashburton, Fendalton, Selwyn, and Waitaki). The changes came into effect for the 1978 election. [4]

The election

The election was held on 25 November. There were 2,489,510 people officially registered to vote in the elections, making the election the first one in which there were more than two million registered voters. However, the electoral roll in 1978 was significantly out of date and contained numerous duplicate entries. The cause of this confusion was a major redistribution of electoral boundaries, which had been implemented the year before. The actual number of potential voters is estimated to have been about 2,100,000, and actual turnout is estimated to have been about 80% (as compared to the official turnout of only 68.70%), slightly lower than the turnout for the previous election.

Summary of results

The 1978 election saw the National Party win fifty-one seats in parliament, a majority of several seats. This allowed it to retain power. The Labour Party won forty seats. The Social Credit Party retained the Rangitikei seat, which it had won in a by-election shortly before the election. No other parties won seats, and there were no successful independent candidates.

While National won a majority of seats in parliament, it did not actually win a majority of the vote. Labour received the highest number of votes, winning slightly more than forty percent. National, by contrast, won slightly less than forty percent. Social Credit, despite winning only one seat, actually received around sixteen percent of the vote.

While the Hunua Electorate was initially won by Malcolm Douglas (Labour), the result was overturned by the High Court and Winston Peters (National) became the MP for Hunua.

Detailed results


Party Totals

PartyCandidatesTotal votesPercentageSeats wonChange
National 92680,99139.8251-4
Labour 92691,07640.4140+8
Social Credit 92274,75616.071+1
Values 9241,2202.410±0
Independent 5322,1301.290±0

Votes summary

Popular Vote
Social Credit
Parliament seats
Social Credit

Results by electorate

The tables below shows the results of the 1978 general election:


  National     Labour     Social Credit   

Electorate results for the New Zealand general election, 1978
ElectorateIncumbentWinnerMajorityRunner up
General electorates
Albany New electorate Don McKinnon 1,159David Rankin
Ashburton New electorate Rob Talbot 3.005John Srhoy
Auckland Central Richard Prebble 5,284Mrs M T Cole
Avon Mary Batchelor 8,215T P George
Awarua Rex Austin 1,450Bill Devine
Bay of Islands New electorate Neill Austin 1,682W G McPherson
Birkenhead Jim McLay 2,534Rex Stanton
Christchurch Central Bruce Barclay 5,947M G Clucas
Clutha Peter Gordon Robin Gray 1,427F A O'Connell
Dunedin Central Brian MacDonell 3,413M B Ablett
Dunedin North Richard Walls Stan Rodger 2,850 Richard Walls
East Cape New electorate Duncan MacIntyre 2,533O P Drabble
East Coast Bays Frank Gill 1,566Mrs C Hicks
Eastern Hutt New electorate Trevor Young 5,373Rosemary Young
Eden Aussie Malcolm 648John Hinchcliff
Fendalton New electorate Eric Holland 1,956David Close [5]
Gisborne Bob Bell 213 Allan Wallbank
Hamilton East Ian Shearer 1,361Lois Welch
Hamilton West Mike Minogue 1,006 Dorothy Jelicich
Hastings Robert Fenton David Butcher 334Robert Fenton
Hauraki New electorate Leo Schultz 2,019Gordon Miller
Hawkes Bay Richard Harrison 1,908Mike Cullen
Helensville New electorate Dail Jones 1,199 Jack Elder
Heretaunga Ron Bailey 2,744John Ward
Horowhenua New electorate Geoff Thompson 744Alan Charles Eyles
Hunua New electorate Winston Peters 192 Malcolm Douglas [nb 1]
Invercargill Norman Jones 256 Aubrey Begg
Island Bay Gerald O'Brien Frank O'Flynn 650Bill Nathan [nb 2]
Kaimai New electorate Bruce Townshend 3,476Douglas Conway
Kaipara New electorate Peter Wilkinson 520Nevern McConachy [6]
Kapiti Barry Brill 23 Margaret Shields [nb 3]
King Country Jim Bolger 2,770Leo Menefy
Lyttelton Colleen Dewe Ann Hercus 1,423Colleen Dewe
Manawatu Allan McCready Michael Cox 2,913 Trevor de Cleene
Mangere David Lange 6,263Peter Saunders
Manurewa Merv Wellington Roger Douglas 2,467Peter O'Brien
Marlborough Edward Latter Doug Kidd 323 Ian Brooks
Matamata New electorate Jack Luxton 4,407David Mawdsley
Miramar Bill Young 315 Bill Jeffries
Mt Albert Warren Freer 2,861Frank Ryan
Napier Gordon Christie 2,927Kevin Rose
Nelson Mel Courtney 2,239 Peter Malone
New Lynn Jonathan Hunt 4,390Mrs J F Bridges
New Plymouth Tony Friedlander 112Dennis Duggan
North Shore George Gair 4,650Gene Anthony Thomas Leckey
Onehunga Frank Rogers 1,417Barrie Hutchinson
Ohariu New electorate Hugh Templeton 1,958 Helene Ritchie
Otago New electorate Warren Cooper 3,722R J Rutherford
Otahuhu Bob Tizard 4,762Ah Chee
Pahiatua John Falloon 6,675P M A Hills
Pakuranga Gavin Downie Pat Hunt 2,111Elsa J. Smith
Palmerston North John Lithgow Joe Walding 2,736 John Lithgow
Papakura New electorate Merv Wellington 3,622 Geoff Braybrooke
Papanui Bert Walker Mike Moore 3,289Bert Walker
Papatoetoe New electorate Eddie Isbey 1,511Colin Bidois
Pencarrow New electorate Fraser Colman 3,649Brett Newell
Porirua Gerard Wall 3,657A H C Perry
Rangiora Derek Quigley 1,145D S McKenzie
Rangiriri New electorate Bill Birch 2,276R F McKee
Rangitikei Bruce Beetham 2,853 Les Gandar
Remuera Allan Highet 5,771Lee Goffin
Roskill Arthur Faulkner 1,671 John Banks
Rotorua Harry Lapwood Paul East 1,020 Peter Tapsell
St Albans Roger Drayton David Caygill 3,679Neil Russell
St Kilda Bill Fraser 2,959Graeme Laing
Selwyn New electorate Colin McLachlan 1,232Bill Woods
Sydenham John Kirk 7,040Ian Wilson
Tamaki Robert Muldoon 6,310Audie Cooke-Pennefather
Taranaki New electorate David Thomson 4,573K A Tracey
Tarawera New electorate Ian Mclean 2,022 John Joseph Stewart
Tasman Bill Rowling 1,794 Ruth Richardson
Taupo Ray La Varis Jack Ridley 609Lesley A Miller [7]
Tauranga Keith Allen 3,318Paul Hills
Te Atatu Michael Bassett 2,819W R Cross
Timaru Basil Arthur 2,183W S Penno
Waikato Lance Adams-Schneider 5,063B G West [8]
Waipa New electorate Marilyn Waring 4,906John Kilbride
Wairarapa Ben Couch 837Allan Levett
Waitakere New electorate Ralph Maxwell 2,016William Raymond McDonald Haresnape
Waitaki New electorate Jonathan Elworthy 1,315W R Laney
Waitotara New electorate Venn Young 4,109Mrs E H Charteris
Wallace Brian Talboys 5,324Jim Thomson
Wanganui Russell Marshall 3,102J G Rowan
Wellington Central Ken Comber 916 Neville Pickering
West Coast Paddy Blanchfield Kerry Burke 5,647G K A Ferguson
Western Hutt Brian Lambert John Terris 168Brian Lambert
Whangarei John Elliott 1,176 Colin Moyle
Yaldhurst New electorate Mick Connelly 1,638David Watson
Māori electorates
Eastern Maori Paraone Reweti 7,400M Searancke
Northern Maori Matiu Rata 4,844H Te K Toia
Southern Maori Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan 9,180C P Maitai
Western Maori Koro Wētere 9,719Gordon Piherria

Table footnotes:

  1. The election of Malcolm Douglas in Hunua was overturned by the Electoral Court on 24 May 1979
  2. Gerald O'Brien came third standing as Independent Labour
  3. Margaret Shields had initially been declared the winner but she lost 83 votes in a magisterial recount



Summary of changes

For details about the winners of each individual electorate, see the article on the 39th Parliament.


  1. 1 2 McRobie 1989, p. 119.
  2. Atkinson 2003, pp. 187–188, 191–193.
  3. McRobie 1989, pp. 8–9, 51, 119.
  4. McRobie 1989, pp. 115–120.
  5. Bohan 2004, p. 67.
  6. Chapman 1999, p. 208.
  7. Gustafson 1986, p. 284.
  8. Norton 1988, p. 368.

Related Research Articles

1987 New Zealand general election

The 1987 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the 42nd sitting of the New Zealand Parliament. The governing New Zealand Labour Party, led by Prime Minister David Lange, was re-elected for a second term, although the Opposition National Party made gains. The election also saw the elimination of the Democratic Party from Parliament, leaving Labour and National as the only parties represented.

1984 New Zealand general election

The 1984 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the 41st New Zealand Parliament. It marked the beginning of the Fourth Labour Government, with David Lange's Labour Party defeating the long-serving Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon, of the National Party. It was also the last election in which the Social Credit Party won seats as an independent entity. The election was also the only one in which the New Zealand Party, a protest party, played any substantial role.

1996 New Zealand general election

The 1996 New Zealand general election was held on 12 October 1996 to determine the composition of the 45th New Zealand Parliament. It was notable for being the first election to be held under the new mixed-member proportional (MMP) electoral system, and produced a parliament considerably more diverse than previous elections. It saw the National Party, led by Jim Bolger, retain its position in government, but only after protracted negotiations with the smaller New Zealand First party to form a coalition. New Zealand First's position as "kingmaker", able to place either of the two major parties into government, was a significant election outcome.

1981 New Zealand general election

The 1981 New Zealand general election, held on 28 November 1981, was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the 40th New Zealand Parliament. It saw the governing National Party, led by Robert Muldoon, win a third term in office, but the opposition Labour Party, led by Bill Rowling, won the largest share of the votes cast.

1993 New Zealand general election

The 1993 New Zealand general election was held on 6 November 1993 to determine the composition of the 44th New Zealand Parliament. It saw the governing National Party, led by Jim Bolger, win a second term in office, despite a major swing away from National in both seats and votes. The opposition Labour Party, despite a slight drop in their support, managed to make gains in terms of seats. The new Alliance and New Zealand First parties gained significant shares of the vote, but won few seats. The election was New Zealand's last under the non-proportional first past the post electoral system.

1969 New Zealand general election

The 1969 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of Parliament's 36th term. It saw the Second National Government headed by Prime Minister Keith Holyoake of the National Party win a fourth consecutive term.

Coromandel (New Zealand electorate) New Zealand electorate

Coromandel is a New Zealand electoral division returning one member to the House of Representatives. It is currently represented by Scott Simpson, a member of the National Party.

Helensville (New Zealand electorate)

Helensville is a New Zealand parliamentary electorate, returning one Member of Parliament to the House of Representatives. The electorate was first established for the 1978 election and was abolished again in 1984, and has existed again since the 2002 election. The MP for Helensville is Chris Penk of the National Party, who has held the seat since the 2017 general election.

Mount Albert (New Zealand electorate) New Zealand Parliamentary electorate

Mount Albert is a parliamentary electorate in Auckland, New Zealand, returning one Member of Parliament (MP) to the New Zealand House of Representatives. It was represented by David Shearer from 13 June 2009 to 31 December 2016. It was represented by Helen Clark from the 1981 general election until her resignation from Parliament on 17 April 2009. It has elected only Labour Party MPs since it was first contested at the 1946 election. The current representative is the Prime Minister and Labour Party leader, Jacinda Ardern, who was elected in a 2017 by-election gaining 77 percent of votes cast in the preliminary results.

Waitakere (New Zealand electorate) former New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Waitakere was a parliamentary electorate, returning one Member of Parliament to the New Zealand House of Representatives. The electorate was first formed for the 1946 election and existed until 2014, with breaks from 1969 to 1978 and from 1987 to 1993. The last MP for Waitakere was Paula Bennett of the National Party, who had held this position since the 2008 election.

Ōhāriu (New Zealand electorate)

Ōhāriu, previously spelled Ohariu and then Ōhariu, is a New Zealand parliamentary electorate returning one Member of Parliament to the House of Representatives. It first existed from 1978 to 1993, and was recreated for the 2008 election. In 2008, it was the successor to Ohariu-Belmont, first contested at the first mixed-member proportional (MMP) election in 1996. Through its existence Ohariu-Belmont was represented by Peter Dunne, leader of the United Future party. Dunne contested and won the recreated electorate in 2008. He announced on 21 August 2017, he would not be seeking re-election in the 2017 general election.

Papakura (New Zealand electorate) New Zealand electorate

Papakura is an electorate in the New Zealand House of Representatives, based in the south Auckland town of Papakura. Historically, the name refers to an electorate that existed between 1978 and 1996, which with the advent of Mixed Member Proportional voting and resulting reduction in the number of constituencies was folded into a new Hunua seat. In 2002 Hunua was modified, pulled northwards and renamed Clevedon.

Hunua (New Zealand electorate)

The Hunua electorate existed three times for the New Zealand House of Representatives beginning in 1978, based at the south end of the Auckland urban area, and named for the Hunua Ranges. It covered different geographical areas over those periods. The electorate is currently represented by Andrew Bayly of the National Party.

Pencarrow (New Zealand electorate) former New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Pencarrow is a former Parliamentary electorate in the lower Hutt Valley of New Zealand, from 1978 to 1996.

Otara (New Zealand electorate) former New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Otara was a New Zealand parliamentary electorate, from 1984 to 1996. It existed for four parliamentary terms and was represented by three members of parliament, two from Labour and one from National.

Eastern Hutt former New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Eastern Hutt is a former New Zealand parliamentary electorate from 1978 to 1996. It was represented by two Labour MPs.

Western Hutt former New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Western Hutt was a New Zealand parliamentary electorate from 1969 to 1996.

Tasman is a former New Zealand parliamentary electorate, from 1972 to 1996.

Yaldhurst is a former New Zealand parliamentary electorate, near the city of Christchurch. The electorate was to the southwest of Christchurch, and was suburban and semi-rural.

Papatoetoe (New Zealand electorate) former New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Papatoetoe is a former New Zealand parliamentary electorate, and is part of greater Auckland.