All 92 seats for the New Zealand House of Representatives
47 seats were needed for a majority
Results of the 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. Social Credit also won over 20% of the vote- their best result ever- but received no new seats. This was the second consecutive election in which National lost the popular vote to Labour. More electorates were rural and right-leaning than urban and progressive, and therefore National benefitted under the first-past-the-post electoral system. The fact the unpopular Muldoon was able to continue to govern anyway was a major catalyst for the growing public desire to reform New Zealand's electoral system. This happened within fifteen years, when the 1996 election was the first to use mixed-member proportional representation.
Notable MPs first elected at this election include future Labour Party leader and current Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff, the first Māori Speaker of the House Peter Tapsell, future Finance Minister Michael Cullen, and future Prime Minister Helen Clark. Future Minister of Foreign Affairs and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters lost his seat of Hunua at this election to Colin Moyle of the Labour Party, whom Robert Muldoon had aggressively accused of being gay as part of a McCarthyist smear campaign in 1977.
Before the election, the National Party governed with 50 seats, while the opposition Labour Party held 40 seats. The Social Credit Party held two (one of which had been taken from National in a recent by-election). The National Party had won a landslide victory in the 1975 election, but in the 1978 election, although remaining in office, had lost ground. The style of Robert Muldoon's leadership was growing increasingly unpopular, both with his party and with the public, and there had been an abortive leadership challenge by Brian Talboys in 1980. Some commentators believed that the 1981 election would mark an end to Muldoon's government.
Some pundits have since claimed that the Springbok Tour increased votes for National in provincial electorates, despite the tour not being seen as a major election issue.
The opposition Labour Party was led by Bill Rowling, who had been leader of the party in the past two elections. While Rowling had performed poorly against Muldoon in 1975, and was generally viewed by the public as weak, he had gradually recovered a measure of public respect. In 1980, Rowling survived a leadership challenge by David Lange. In the previous election, Labour had won a plurality of the vote, but did not win a majority of the seats. Many believed that this time, Labour would manage to convert its support into seats, although that did prove not to be the case.
Not all of Muldoon's opponents gave their support to Rowling and the Labour Party, however. The small Social Credit Party, traditionally New Zealand's "third party", was enjoying strong support, but the first-past-the-post electoral system made it difficult for Social Credit to win seats. After the East Coast Bays by-election, Social Credit reached as high as 30% in opinion polls, but it then declined. 
Five National MPs and seven Labour MPs intended to retire at the end of the 39th Parliament.
|Labour||Paraone Reweti||Eastern Maori|
|Warren Freer||Mount Albert|
|Joe Walding||Palmerston North|
|Bill Fraser||St Kilda|
The election was held on 28 November. 2,034,747 people were registered to vote, and 91.4% turned out. That was a markedly higher turnout than recorded for the previous election, but as the official statistics for that election are regarded as highly misleading, the comparison is probably not valid. It is likely that turnout in the 1981 election was about the same as in the election before it.
The 1981 election saw the National Party win 47 of the 92 seats in parliament, a drop of three from before the election (National lost Hunua, Kapiti, Miramar and Wellington Central but won Taupo). This meant that National kept its majority by only a single seat, which became highly problematic over the next parliamentary term. The Labour Party won 43 seats, a gain of three (Labour won Hunua, Kapiti, Miramar and Wellington Central but lost Taupo). The Social Credit Party managed to retain its two seats, East Coast Bays and Rangitikei. No party initially held a majority until a recount flipped the seat of Gisborne from Labour to National, which gave National a working majority of one. 
For the second election in a row, Labour won more votes than National, but fewer seats, allowing National to retain government despite not winning the popular vote. Social Credit won more than 20% of the popular vote but only two seats. This result, and that of 1978, contributed to New Zealand adopting the Mixed Member Proportional system of proportional representation in the 1990s.
|Party||Candidates||Total votes||Percentage||Seats won|
The tables below shows the results of the 1981 general election:
National Labour Social Credit Mana Motuhake Independent
|Albany||Don McKinnon||1,964||Bryan Mockridge|
|Ashburton||Rob Talbot||3,655||John Srhoy|
|Auckland Central||Richard Prebble||6,614||Dorice Reid|
|Avon||Mary Batchelor||7,820||Colin McNicholl|
|Awarua||Rex Austin||2,341||Dick Fitzgerald|
|Bay of Islands||Neill Austin||864||Les Hunter|
|Birkenhead||Jim McLay||2,104||Bill Smith|
|Christchurch Central||Geoffrey Palmer||7,028||Ian Wilson|
|Clutha||Robin Gray||661||Clive Matthewson|
|Dunedin Central||Brian MacDonell||4,169||Nancy Ruth King |
|Dunedin North||Stan Rodger||4,733||Des Bleach|
|East Cape||Duncan MacIntyre||1,964||Peter Dey|
|East Coast Bays||Gary Knapp||758||Don Brash|
|Eastern Hutt||Trevor Young||5.011||Alex Duthie|
|Eden||Aussie Malcolm||117||Ian Scott|
|Fendalton||Eric Holland||Philip Burdon||1,158||David Close |
|Gisborne||Bob Bell||150||Allan Wallbank [nb 1]|
|Hamilton East||Ian Shearer||1,188||Lois Welch|
|Hamilton West||Mike Minogue||1,477||Paddy McCaffrey|
|Hastings||David Butcher||1,845||Hamish Kynoch |
|Hauraki||Leo Schultz||Graeme Lee||1,787||Gordon Miller|
|Hawkes Bay||Richard Harrison||2,430||Mike Cullen|
|Helensville||Dail Jones||216||Jack Elder|
|Heretaunga||Ron Bailey||Bill Jeffries||2,233||Ronald Palmer|
|Horowhenua||Geoff Thompson||876||David Page|
|Hunua||Winston Peters||Colin Moyle||996||Winston Peters|
|Invercargill||Norman Jones||1,592||Dougal Soper|
|Island Bay||Frank O'Flynn||3,938||Doug Catley|
|Kaimai||Bruce Townshend||5,146||Douglas Conway|
|Kaipara||Peter Wilkinson||1,029||Nevern Connachy|
|Kapiti||Barry Brill||Margaret Shields||495||Barry Brill|
|King Country||Jim Bolger||2,158||Derek Mason|
|Lyttelton||Ann Hercus||3,892||Simon Stamers-Smith|
|Manawatu||Michael Cox||2,913||Dennis Kessell|
|Mangere||David Lange||5,806||John Pettit|
|Manurewa||Roger Douglas||2,815||Keith Ralph|
|Marlborough||Doug Kidd||1,643||Graeme Macann|
|Matamata||Jack Luxton||3,460||David Mawdsley|
|Miramar||Bill Young||Peter Neilson||649||Bill Young|
|Mount Albert||Warren Freer||Helen Clark||3,907||Warren W. Moyes|
|Napier||Gordon Christie||Geoff Braybrooke||3,009||Kevin Rose|
|Nelson||Mel Courtney [nb 2]||Philip Woollaston||698||Mel Courtney|
|New Lynn||Jonathan Hunt||4,874||Ron Hanson|
|New Plymouth||Tony Friedlander||1,567||Dennis Duggan|
|North Shore||George Gair||3,969||Peter Chambers|
|Ohariu||Hugh Templeton||1,567||Norman Ely|
|Onehunga||Fred Gerbic||2,012||Sue Wood|
|Otago||Warren Cooper||4,893||Bryan Griffiths|
|Otahuhu||Bob Tizard||5,164||Stuart McDowell|
|Pahiatua||John Falloon||7,569||Bill Sutton|
|Pakuranga||Pat Hunt||783||Neil Morrison|
|Palmerston North||Joe Walding||Trevor de Cleene||2,110||Brian Elwood|
|Papakura||Merv Wellington||3,215||John Cheeseman|
|Papanui||Mike Moore||4,409||Brian Keeley|
|Papatoetoe||Eddie Isbey||1,689||Roy McKeen|
|Pencarrow||Fraser Colman||4,065||Willard Amaru|
|Porirua||Gerry Wall||3,639||Estelle Brittain|
|Rangiora||Derek Quigley||932||Chris Hayward|
|Rangiriri||Bill Birch||3,004||Roy Hayward|
|Rangitikei||Bruce Beetham||2,376||Paul Bardwell|
|Remuera||Allan Highet||5,105||Judith Tizard|
|Roskill||Arthur Faulkner||Phil Goff||2,525||Cheryl Parsons|
|Rotorua||Paul East||1,544||Johnny W Lepper|
|St Albans||David Caygill||4,926||Jim Baker|
|St Kilda||Bill Fraser||Michael Cullen||3,579||Stuart Clark|
|Selwyn||Colin McLachlan||Ruth Richardson||2,129||Bill Woods|
|Sydenham||John Kirk||5,594||Richard Bach|
|Tamaki||Robert Muldoon||5,153||Richard Northey|
|Taranaki||David Thomson||4,470||Brian Heilihy|
|Tarawera||Ian McLean||2,442||Noel Scott|
|Tasman||Bill Rowling||2,246||Ted Krammer|
|Taupo||Jack Ridley||Roger McClay [nb 3]||36||Jack Ridley|
|Tauranga||Keith Allen||2,232||Paul Hills|
|Te Atatu||Michael Bassett||3,330||Stella Noble|
|Timaru||Sir Basil Arthur||1,850||Jane Coughlan|
|Waikato||Lance Adams-Schneider||Simon Upton||4,661||Noel Johnston|
|Waipa||Marilyn Waring||2,768||John Kilbride|
|Wairarapa||Ben Couch||1,546||Tom Gemmell|
|Waitakere||Ralph Maxwell||2,883||Martin Gummer|
|Waitaki||Jonathan Elworthy||305||Jim Sutton|
|Waitotara||Venn Young||2,784||Sam Gray|
|Wallace||Brian Talboys||Derek Angus||6,558||Owen Horton|
|Wanganui||Russell Marshall||1,668||Terry Heffernan|
|Wellington Central||Ken Comber||Fran Wilde||1,283||Ken Comber|
|West Coast||Kerry Burke||4,406||Doug Truman|
|Western Hutt||John Terris||1,420||John Tanner|
|Whangarei||John Elliott||John Banks||1,743||Maurice Penney|
|Yaldhurst||Mick Connelly||1,962||Margaret Murray |
|Eastern Maori||Paraone Reweti||Peter Tapsell||6,232||Albert Tahana|
|Northern Maori||Bruce Gregory||3,541||Matiu Rata|
|Southern Maori||Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan||8,665||Amster Reedy|
|Western Maori||Koro Wētere||8,624||Eva Rickard|
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