New Zealand general election, 1981

New Zealand general election, 1981
New Zealand
28 November 1981 (1981-11-28)

All 92 seats for 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 51 seats, 39.8% 40 seats, 40.4% 1 seat, 16.1%
Seats before 50 40 2
Seats won 47 43 2
Seat change Decrease4 Increase3 Steady
Percentage 38.8% 39.0% 20.7%
Swing Decrease 1.0% Decrease1.4% Increase4.6%

Prime Minister before election

Robert Muldoon

Elected Prime Minister

Robert Muldoon

The 1981 New Zealand general election 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, although the opposition Labour Party, led by Bill Rowling, actually won the largest share of the votes cast.


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 the previous election, Labour had actually 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 would 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, although 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 the polls, but then its position declined.[1]

The election

The election was held on 28 November. 2,034,747 people were registered to vote, and 91.4% turned out. This 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.

Summary of results

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, a fact which would prove 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.

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.

Detailed results

Party totals

Election results
Party Candidates Total votes Percentage Seats won
National 92 698,508 38.77 47
Labour 92 702,630 39.01 43
Social Credit 92 372,056 20.65 2
Mana Motuhake 4 8,332 0.46 -
Values 17 3,460 0.19 -
(including Mel Courtney and Aubrey Begg)
68 17,897 0.98 -
Others 39 5,096 0.28 -
Total 338 1,801,303 92

Votes summary

Popular Vote
Social Credit
Mana Motuhake
Parliament seats
Social Credit

Map of electorates

Individual electorate results

The tables below shows the results of the 1981 general election:


 National    Labour    Social Credit    Mana Motuhake  

Electorate results for the New Zealand general election, 1981.[2]
Electorate Incumbent Winner Majority Runner up
General electorates
Albany Don McKinnon 1,964 B Mockridge
Ashburton Rob Talbot 3,655 John Srhoy
Auckland Central Richard Prebble 6,614 Dorice Reid
Avon Mary Batchelor 7,820 C M McNicholl
Awarua Rex Austin 2,341 R G Fitzgerald
Bay of Islands Neill Austin 864 Les Hunter
Birkenhead Jim McLay 2,104 H W Smith
Christchurch Central Geoffrey Palmer 7,028 I G B Wilson
Clutha Robin Gray 661 Clive Matthewson
Dunedin Central Brian MacDonell 4,169 Mrs Nancy Ruth King[3]
Dunedin North Stan Rodger 4,733 Des Bleach
East Cape Duncan MacIntyre 1,964 P A Dey
East Coast Bays Gary Knapp 758 Don Brash
Eastern Hutt Trevor Young 5.011 A J Duthie
Eden Aussie Malcolm 117 I K Scott
Fendalton Eric Holland Philip Burdon 1,158 David Close[4]
Gisborne Bob Bell 150 Allan Wallbank
Hamilton East Ian Shearer 1,188 L J Welch
Hamilton West Mike Minogue 1,477 P O McCaffrey
Hastings David Butcher 1,845 Hamish Kynoch[3]
Hauraki Leo Schultz Graeme Lee 1,787 Gordon Miller
Hawkes Bay Richard Harrison 2,430 M E (Mike) Cullen
Helensville Dail Jones 216 Jack Elder
Heretaunga Ron Bailey Bill Jeffries 2,233 R A J Palmer
Horowhenua Geoff Thompson 876 D G Page
Hunua Winston Peters Colin Moyle 996 Winston Peters
Invercargill Norman Jones 1,592 Dougal Soper
Island Bay Frank O'Flynn 3,938 D H Catley
Kaimai Bruce Townshend 5,146 D J F Conway
Kaipara Peter Wilkinson 1,029 Nevern Connachy
Kapiti Barry Brill Margaret Shields 495 Barry Brill
King Country Jim Bolger 2,158 D H Mason
Lyttelton Ann Hercus 3,892 Simon Stamers-Smith
Manawatu Michael Cox 2,913 D G Kessell
Mangere David Lange 5,806 J F Pettit
Manurewa Roger Douglas 2,815 K T Ralph
Marlborough Doug Kidd 1,643 G E Macann
Matamata Jack Luxton 3,460 D R Mawdsley
Miramar Bill Young Peter Neilson 649 Bill Young
Mt Albert Warren Freer Helen Clark 3,907 Warren W Moyes
Napier Gordon Christie Geoff Braybrooke 3,009 K J Rose
Nelson Mel Courtney[nb 1] Philip Woollaston 698 Mel Courtney
New Lynn Jonathan Hunt 4,874 R A Hanson
New Plymouth Tony Friedlander 1,567 D W Duggan
North Shore George Gair 3,969 P G Chambers
Ohariu Hugh Templeton 1,567 N R Ely
Onehunga Fred Gerbic 2,012 Sue Wood
Otago Warren Cooper 4,893 B O Griffiths
Otahuhu Bob Tizard 5,164 S 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 J S Cheeseman
Papanui Mike Moore 4,409 B S Keeley
Papatoetoe Eddie Isbey 1,689 Roy McKeen
Pencarrow Fraser Colman 4,065 Willard Amaru
Porirua Gerard Wall 3,639 E A Brittain
Rangiora Derek Quigley 932 C G M Hayward
Rangiriri Bill Birch 3,004 R Hayward
Rangitikei Bruce Beetham 2,376 P M Bardwell
Remuera Allan Highet 5,105 Judith Tizard
Roskill Arthur Faulkner Phil Goff 2,525 C A Parsons
Rotorua Paul East 1,544 Johnny W Lepper
St Albans David Caygill 4,926 J D Baker
St Kilda William Fraser Michael Cullen 3,579 Stuart Clark
Selwyn Colin McLachlan Ruth Richardson 2,129 W E Woods
Sydenham John Kirk 5,594 R R Bach
Tamaki Robert Muldoon 5,153 Richard Northey
Taranaki David Thomson 4,470 B J Heilihy
Tarawera Ian McLean 2,442 Noel Scott
Tasman Bill Rowling 2,246 E L Kramer
Taupo Jack Ridley Roger McClay[nb 2] 36 Jack Ridley
Tauranga Keith Allen 2,232 Paul Hills
Te Atatu Michael Bassett 3,330 S Noble
Timaru 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 T Gemmell
Waitakere Ralph Maxwell 2,883 M R Gummer
Waitaki Jonathan Elworthy 305 Jim Sutton
Waitotara Venn Young 2,784 S K Young
Wallace Brian Talboys Derek Angus 6,558 O W Horton
Wanganui Russell Marshall 1,668 Terry Heffernan
Wellington Central Ken Comber Fran Wilde 1,283 Ken Comber
West Coast Kerry Burke 4,406 D J Truman
Western Hutt John Terris 1,420 J W Tanner
Whangarei John Elliott John Banks 1,743 M E Penney
Yaldhurst Mick Connelly 1,962 Mrs Margaret E Murray[5]
Māori electorates
Eastern Maori Paraone Reweti Peter Tapsell 6,232 A Tahana
Northern Maori Bruce Gregory 3,541 Matiu Rata
Southern Maori Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan 8,665 N A Reedy
Western Maori Koro Wētere 8,624 Eva Rickard

Table footnotes:

  1. Courtney had withdrawn from the Labour caucus in March 1981
  2. McClay was declared elected by the High Court after an Electoral Petition

Summary of changes



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