1978 New Zealand general election

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.

1978 New Zealand general election

← 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 party Second party Third 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 14 May 1972
Leader's seat Tamaki Tasman Rangitīkei
Last election 55 seats, 47.6% 32 seats, 39.6% 0 seats, 7.4%
Seats before 54 32 1
Seats won 51 40 1
Seat change Decrease 3 Increase 8 Steady
Popular vote 680,991 691,076 274,756
Percentage 39.8% 40.4% 16.1%
Swing Decrease 7.8% Increase 0.8% Increase 8.7%

1978 New Zealand general election - Results.svg
Results of the election.

Prime Minister before election

Robert Muldoon

Subsequent Prime Minister

Robert Muldoon


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.

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.

MPs retiring in 1978Edit

Five National MPs and three Labour MPs intended to retire at the end of the 38th Parliament.

Party Name Electorate Term of office Date announced
National Peter Gordon Clutha
28 October 1977[1]
Allan McCready Manawatu
8 August 1977[2]
Ed Latter Marlborough
18 August 1978[3]
Harry Lapwood Rotorua
18 August 1977[4]
Ray La Varis Taupo
4 November 1977[5]
Labour Martyn Finlay Henderson
25 May 1977[6]
Roger Drayton St Albans
8 September 1977[7]
Paddy Blanchfield West Coast
16 July 1977[8]

Sir Stanley Whitehead MP for Nelson had announced he would retire at the end of the term in 1978, due to ill-health, but he died on 9 January 1976 triggering a by-election instead.[9]

Electoral changesEdit


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.

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.[10]

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.[11]

Electoral redistributionEdit

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.[12] 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.[10]

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.[13]

The electionEdit

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 resultsEdit

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. The election night result had National with more seats, but many seats had small majorities and it was conceivable that if special votes overturned enough electorates Labour could form a government.[14] Ultimately this did not eventuate however.

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.[15]

Detailed resultsEdit

Party TotalsEdit

Party Candidates Total votes Percentage Seats won Change
National 92 680,991 39.82 51 -4
Labour 92 691,076 40.41 40 +8
Social Credit 92 274,756 16.07 1 +1
Values 92 41,220 2.41 0 ±0
National Socialist 1 22 0.00 - ±0
Independent 53 22,130 1.29 0 ±0
Total 421 1,710,173 92 +5

Votes summaryEdit

Popular Vote
Social Credit
Parliament seats
Social Credit

Results by electorateEdit

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


  National     Labour     Social Credit  

Electorate results for the 1978 New Zealand general election
Electorate Incumbent Winner Majority Runner up
General electorates
Albany New electorate Don McKinnon 1,159 David Rankin
Ashburton New electorate Rob Talbot 3.005 John Srhoy
Auckland Central Richard Prebble 5,284 Maire Cole
Avon Mary Batchelor 8,215 Tom George
Awarua Rex Austin 1,450 Bill Devine
Bay of Islands New electorate Neill Austin 1,682 William Guy McPherson
Birkenhead Jim McLay 2,534 Rex Stanton
Christchurch Central Bruce Barclay 5,947 Gwen Clucas
Clutha Peter Gordon Robin Gray 1,427 F A O'Connell
Dunedin Central Brian MacDonell 3,413 M B Ablett
Dunedin North Richard Walls Stan Rodger 2,850 Richard Walls
East Cape New electorate Duncan MacIntyre 2,533 O P Drabble
East Coast Bays Frank Gill 1,566 Colleen Hicks
Eastern Hutt New electorate Trevor Young 5,373 Rosemary Young
Eden Aussie Malcolm 648 John Hinchcliff
Fendalton New electorate Eric Holland 1,956 David Close[16]
Gisborne Bob Bell 213 Allan Wallbank
Hamilton East Ian Shearer 1,361 Lois Welch
Hamilton West Mike Minogue 1,006 Dorothy Jelicich
Hastings Bob Fenton David Butcher 334 Bob Fenton
Hauraki New electorate Leo Schultz 2,019 Gordon Miller
Hawkes Bay Richard Harrison 1,908 Mike Cullen
Helensville New electorate Dail Jones 1,199 Jack Elder
Heretaunga Ron Bailey 2,744 John Ward
Horowhenua New electorate Geoff Thompson 744 Alan 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 650 Bill Nathan[nb 2]
Kaimai New electorate Bruce Townshend 3,476 Douglas Conway
Kaipara New electorate Peter Wilkinson 520 Nevern McConachy[17]
Kapiti Barry Brill 23 Margaret Shields[nb 3]
King Country Jim Bolger 2,770 Leo Menefy
Lyttelton Colleen Dewe Ann Hercus 1,423 Colleen Dewe
Manawatu Allan McCready Michael Cox 2,913 Trevor de Cleene
Mangere David Lange 6,263 Peter Saunders
Manurewa Merv Wellington Roger Douglas 2,467 Peter O'Brien
Marlborough Ed Latter Doug Kidd 323 Ian Brooks
Matamata New electorate Jack Luxton 4,407 David Mawdsley
Miramar Bill Young 315 Bill Jeffries
Mt Albert Warren Freer 2,861 Frank Ryan
Napier Gordon Christie 2,927 Kevin Rose
Nelson Mel Courtney 2,239 Peter Malone
New Lynn Jonathan Hunt 4,390 Jacky Bridges
New Plymouth Tony Friedlander 112 Dennis Duggan
North Shore George Gair 4,650 Gene Leckey
Onehunga Frank Rogers 1,417 Barrie Hutchinson
Ohariu New electorate Hugh Templeton 1,958 Helene Ritchie
Otago New electorate Warren Cooper 3,722 R J Rutherford
Otahuhu Bob Tizard 4,762 Ray Ah Chee
Pahiatua John Falloon 6,675 P M A Hills
Pakuranga Gavin Downie Pat Hunt 2,111 Elsa 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 3,289 Bert Walker
Papatoetoe New electorate Eddie Isbey 1,511 Colin Bidois
Pencarrow New electorate Fraser Colman 3,649 Brett Newell
Porirua Gerry Wall 3,657 A H C Perry
Rangiora Derek Quigley 1,145 Don McKenzie
Rangiriri New electorate Bill Birch 2,276 Robert Frederick McKee
Rangitikei Bruce Beetham 2,853 Les Gandar
Remuera Allan Highet 5,771 Lee Goffin
Roskill Arthur Faulkner 1,671 John Banks
Rotorua Harry Lapwood Paul East 1,020 Peter Tapsell
St Albans Roger Drayton David Caygill 3,679 Neil Russell
St Kilda Bill Fraser 2,959 Graeme Laing
Selwyn New electorate Colin McLachlan 1,232 Bill Woods
Sydenham John Kirk 7,040 Ian Wilson
Tamaki Robert Muldoon 6,310 Audie Cooke-Pennefather
Taranaki New electorate David Thomson 4,573 K A Tracey
Tarawera New electorate Ian Mclean 2,022 JJ Stewart
Tasman Bill Rowling 1,794 Ruth Richardson
Taupo Ray La Varis Jack Ridley 609 Lesley A. Miller[18]
Tauranga Keith Allen 3,318 Paul Hills
Te Atatu Michael Bassett 2,819 W R Cross
Timaru Sir Basil Arthur 2,183 Bill Penno
Waikato Lance Adams-Schneider 5,063 Brian West[19]
Waipa New electorate Marilyn Waring 4,906 John Kilbride
Wairarapa Ben Couch 837 Allan Levett
Waitakere New electorate Ralph Maxwell 2,016 Bill Haresnape
Waitaki New electorate Jonathan Elworthy 1,315 Bill Laney
Waitotara New electorate Venn Young 4,109 Edith Charteris
Wallace Brian Talboys 5,324 Jim Thomson
Wanganui Russell Marshall 3,102 John Rowan
Wellington Central Ken Comber 916 Neville Pickering
West Coast Paddy Blanchfield Kerry Burke 5,647 George Ferguson
Western Hutt Bill Lambert John Terris 168 Bill Lambert
Whangarei John Elliott 1,176 Colin Moyle
Yaldhurst New electorate Mick Connelly 1,638 David Watson
Māori electorates
Eastern Maori Paraone Reweti 7,400 Monty Searancke
Northern Maori Matiu Rata 4,844 Joe Toia
Southern Maori Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan 9,180 Charles Piharo Maitai
Western Maori Koro Wētere 9,719 Gordon Pihema

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 changesEdit

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


  1. ^ "Mr Gordon to call it a day". The Press. 29 October 1977. p. 1.
  2. ^ "Minister of Defence to retire". The Press. 9 August 1977. p. 1.
  3. ^ "Marlborough's M.P. not standing again". The Press. 19 August 1978. p. 3.
  4. ^ "Tourism Minister to retire". The Press. 19 August 1977. p. 1.
  5. ^ "Taupo M.P. to go". The Press. 4 November 1977. p. 11.
  6. ^ Mentiplay, Cedric (25 May 1977). "Dr Finlay to end long stint in Parliament". The Press. p. 1.
  7. ^ "Tribute paid to retiring M.P." The Press. 9 September 1977. p. 2.
  8. ^ "The man who works for the West". The Press. 16 July 1977. p. 15.
  9. ^ "Former Speaker of House is Dead". The Evening Post. 9 January 1976. p. 1.
  10. ^ a b McRobie 1989, p. 119.
  11. ^ Atkinson 2003, pp. 187–188, 191–193.
  12. ^ McRobie 1989, pp. 8–9, 51, 119.
  13. ^ McRobie 1989, pp. 115–120.
  14. ^ "Labour's Hopes Get New Boost". The New Zealand Herald. 5 December 1978. p. 1.
  15. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 193, 226.
  16. ^ Bohan 2004, p. 67.
  17. ^ Chapman 1999, p. 208.
  18. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 284.
  19. ^ Norton 1988, p. 368.