New Zealand general election, 1978

New Zealand general election, 1978
New Zealand
25 November 1978 (1978-11-25)

All 92 seats of the New Zealand House of Representatives
47 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Robert Muldoon Bill Rowling Bruce Beetham
Party National Labour Social Credit
Leader since 1974 1974 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
Percentage 39.8% 40.4% 16.1%
Swing Decrease 7.8% Increase 0.8% Increase 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, although the opposition Labour Party managed to win the largest share of the vote. Reorganisation of the enrolment system caused major problems with the electoral rolls, and left a legacy of unreliable information about voting levels in this election.


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 managed to retain 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.

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.

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 to simply carry forward many old voter registrations and hope that duplications and outdated enrolments would be purged later. However, not enough staff were provided to complete this in time, and by the time 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 (and candidates) found themselves enrolled in the wrong electorate or off the roll completely, and others were enrolled in multiple electorate or several times in the same electorate. This 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 through 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, this 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, while 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). These 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

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
Independent 53 22,130 1.29 0 ±0
Total 421 1,710,173 92 +5

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
Electorate Incumbent Winner Majority Runner up
General electorates
Albany New electorate Don McKinnon 1,159 D W Rankin
Ashburton New electorate Rob Talbot 3.005 A J Srhoy
Auckland Central Richard Prebble 5,284 Mrs M T Cole
Avon Mary Batchelor 8,215 T P George
Awarua Rex Austin 1,450 W P Devine
Bay of Islands New electorate Neill Austin 1,682 W G McPherson
Birkenhead Jim McLay 2,534 L R Stanton
Christchurch Central Bruce Barclay 5,947 M G 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 Mrs C Hicks
Eastern Hutt New electorate Trevor Young 5,373 Miss R A Young
Eden Aussie Malcolm 648 J C Hinchcliff
Fendalton New electorate Eric Holland 1,956 David Close[5]
Gisborne Bob Bell 213 Allan Wallbank
Hamilton East Ian Shearer 1,361 Mrs L J Welch
Hamilton West Mike Minogue 1,006 Dorothy Jelicich
Hastings Robert Fenton David Butcher 334 Robert Fenton
Hauraki New electorate Leo Schultz 2,019 Gordon Miller
Hawkes Bay Richard Harrison 1,908 M E Cullen
Helensville New electorate Dail Jones 1,199 Jack Elder
Heretaunga Ron Bailey 2,744 J W Ward
Horowhenua New electorate Geoff Thompson 744 A C 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 W C Nathan[nb 2]
Kaimai New electorate Bruce Townshend 3,476 D J F Conway
Kaipara New electorate Peter Wilkinson 520 Nevern McConachy[6]
Kapiti Barry Brill 23 Margaret Shields
King Country Jim Bolger 2,770 L L 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 P L Saunders
Manurewa Merv Wellington Roger Douglas 2,467 P F O'Brien
Marlborough Edward Latter Doug Kidd 323 Ian Brooks
Matamata New electorate Jack Luxton 4,407 D R Mawdsley
Miramar Bill Young 315 Bill Jeffries
Mt Albert Warren Freer 2,861 F Ryan
Napier Gordon Christie 2,927 K J Rose
Nelson Mel Courtney 2,239 Peter Malone
New Lynn Jonathan Hunt 4,390 Mrs J F Bridges
New Plymouth Tony Friedlander 112 D W Duggan
North Shore George Gair 4,650 G A T Leckey
Onehunga Frank Rogers 1,417 J P S 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 R P Ah Chee
Pahiatua John Falloon 6,675 P M A Hills
Pakuranga Gavin Downie Pat Hunt 2,111 Mrs E. 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 3,289 Bert Walker
Papatoetoe New electorate Eddie Isbey 1,511 C. Bidois
Pencarrow New electorate Fraser Colman 3,649 B R Newell
Porirua Gerard Wall 3,657 A H C Perry
Rangiora Derek Quigley 1,145 D S McKenzie
Rangiriri New electorate Bill Birch 2,276 R F McKee
Rangitikei Bruce Beetham 2,853 Les Gandar
Remuera Allan Highet 5,771 Mrs L P 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 P N Russell
St Kilda William Fraser 2,959 G K Laing
Selwyn New electorate Colin McLachlan 1,232 W E Woods
Sydenham John Kirk 7,040 I G B Wilson
Tamaki Robert Muldoon 6,310 M Cooke-Pennefeather
Taranaki New electorate David Thomson 4,573 K 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 609 Lesley A Miller[7]
Tauranga Keith Allen 3,318 Paul Hills
Te Atatu Michael Bassett 2,819 W R Cross
Timaru Basil Arthur 2,183 W S Penno
Waikato Lance Adams-Schneider 5,063 B G West[8]
Waipa New electorate Marilyn Waring 4,906 John Kilbride
Wairarapa Ben Couch 837 A. E. Levett
Waitakere New electorate Ralph Maxwell 2,016 W R McD Haresnape
Waitaki New electorate Jonathan Elworthy 1,315 W R Laney
Waitotara New electorate Venn Young 4,109 Mrs E H Charteris
Wallace Brian Talboys 5,324 J A Thomson
Wanganui Russell Marshall 3,102 J G Rowan
Wellington Central Ken Comber 916 Neville Pickering
West Coast Paddy Blanchfield Kerry Burke 5,647 G K A Ferguson
Western Hutt Brian Lambert John Terris 168 Brian Lambert
Whangarei John Elliott 1,176 Colin Moyle
Yaldhurst New electorate Mick Connelly 1,638 D. G. Watson
Māori electorates
Eastern Maori Paraone Reweti 7,400 M Searancke
Northern Maori Matiu Rata 4,844 H Te K Toia
Southern Maori Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan 9,180 C P Maitai
Western Maori Koro Wētere 9,719 G H 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 Island Bay


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.


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