New Zealand general election, 1978

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New Zealand general election, 1978
New Zealand
1975 ←
25 November 1978 (1978-11-25) → 1981

All 92 seats of the House of Representatives of New Zealand
47 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party Third party
  Robert Muldoon 1977.jpg Bill Rowling Shannon School.jpg
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 won 51 40 1
Seat change Decrease 3 Increase 8 Increase 1
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.


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. 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.[1]

The election[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]


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

Results by electorate[edit]

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
Ashburton (new electorate) Rob Talbot
Auckland Central Richard Prebble (N/A)
Avon Mary Batchelor (N/A)
Awarua Rex Austin (N/A)
Bay of Islands (new electorate) Neill Austin
Birkenhead Jim McLay (N/A)
Christchurch Central Bruce Barclay (N/A)
Clutha Peter Gordon Robin Gray (N/A)
Dunedin Central Brian MacDonell (N/A)
Dunedin North Richard Walls Stan Rodger (N/A)
East Cape (new electorate) Duncan MacIntyre
East Coast Bays Frank Gill (N/A)
Eastern Hutt (new electorate) Trevor Young
Eden Aussie Malcolm (N/A)
Fendalton (new electorate) Eric Holland
Gisborne Bob Bell (N/A)
Hamilton East Ian Shearer (N/A)
Hamilton West Mike Minogue (N/A)
Hastings Robert Fenton David Butcher (N/A)
Hauraki (new electorate) Leo Schultz 2,019 G O Miller
Hawkes Bay Richard Harrison (N/A)
Helensville (new electorate) Dail Jones 1,199 Jack Elder
Heretaunga Ron Bailey (N/A)
Horowhenua (new electorate) Geoffrey Thompson
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] (National)
Kaimai (new electorate) Bruce Townshend
Kaipara (new electorate) Peter Wilkinson
Kapiti Barry Brill (N/A)
King Country Jim Bolger (N/A)
Lyttelton Ann Hercus (N/A)
Manawatu Allan McCready Michael Cox 2,913 Trevor de Cleene (Labour)
Mangere David Lange
Manurewa Merv Wellington Roger Douglas (N/A)
Marlborough Edward Latter Doug Kidd (N/A)
Matamata (new electorate) Jack Luxton
Miramar Bill Young (N/A)
Mt Albert Warren Freer (N/A)
Napier Gordon Christie (N/A)
Nelson Mel Courtney
New Lynn Jonathan Hunt (N/A)
New Plymouth Tony Friedlander (N/A)
North Shore George Gair (N/A)
Onehunga Frank Rogers (N/A)
Ohariu (new electorate) Hugh Templeton
Otago (new electorate) Warren Cooper
Otahuhu Bob Tizard (N/A)
Pahiatua John Falloon (N/A)
Pakuranga Gavin Downie Pat Hunt 2,111 Mrs E J Smith (Labour)
Palmerston North John Lithgow Joe Walding John Lithgow (National)
Papakura (new electorate) Merv Wellington 3,622 Geoff Braybrooke
Papanui Bert Walker Mike Moore (N/A)
Papatoetoe (new electorate) Eddie Isbey 1,511 C Bidois
Pencarrow (new electorate) Fraser Colman
Porirua Gerard Wall (N/A)
Rangiora Derek Quigley (N/A)
Rangiriri (new electorate) Bill Birch
Rangitikei Bruce Beetham (N/A)
Remuera Allan Highet (N/A)
Roskill Arthur Faulkner (N/A)
Rotorua Harry Lapwood Paul East Peter Tapsell (Labour)
St Albans Roger Drayton David Caygill (N/A)
St Kilda William Fraser (N/A)
Selwyn (new electorate) Colin McLachlan
South Canterbury Rob Talbot (N/A)
Sydenham John Kirk (N/A)
Tamaki Rob Muldoon (N/A)
Taranaki (new electorate) David Thomson
Tarawera (new electorate) Ian Mclean
Tasman Bill Rowling Ruth Richardson (National)
Taupo Ray La Varis Jack Ridley 609 Mrs L A Miller (National)
Tauranga Keith Allen (N/A)
Te Atatu Michael Bassett
Timaru Basil Arthur (N/A)
Waikato Lance Adams-Schneider (N/A)
Waipa (new electorate) Marilyn Waring
Wairarapa Ben Couch 837 A E Levett (Labour)
Waitakere Martyn Finlay Ralph Maxwell (N/A)
Waitaki (new electorate) Jonathan Elworthy
Waitotara (new electorate) Venn Young
Wallace Brian Talboys (N/A)
Wanganui Russell Marshall (N/A)
Wellington Central (new electorate) Ken Comber
West Coast Paddy Blanchfield Kerry Burke (N/A)
Western Hutt Brian Lambert John Terris (N/A)
Whangarei John Elliott (N/A)
Yaldhurst Mick Connelly 1,638 D G Watson (National)
Māori electorates
Eastern Maori Paraone Reweti 7,400 M Searancke (National)
Northern Maori Matiu Rata 4,844 H Te K Toia (Social Credit)
Southern Maori Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan 9,180 C P Maitai (National)
Western Maori Koro Wētere 9,719 G H Piherria (Social Credit)

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
Name Party Electorate
Adams-Schneider, Lance National Waikato
Allen, Keith National Tauranga
Austin, Neill National Bay of Islands
Austin, Rex National Awarua
Bailey, Ron Labour Heretaunga
Barclay, Bruce Labour Christchurch Central
Bassett, Michael Labour Te Atatu
Batchelor, Mary Labour Avon
Bell, Bob National Gisborne
Birch, Bill National Rangiriri
Bolger, Jim National King Country
Brill, Barry National Kapiti
Butcher, David Labour Hastings
Christie, Gordon Labour Napier
Colman, Fraser Labour Pencarrow
Comber, Ken National Wellington Central
Connelly, Mick Labour Yaldhurst
Cooper, Warren National Otago
Couch, Ben National Wairarapa
Courtney, Mel Labour Nelson
Douglas, Roger Labour Manurewa
East, Paul National Rotorua
Elliot, John National Whangarei
Elworthy, Jonathan National Waitaki
Falloon, John National Pahiatua
Faulkner, Arthur Labour Roskill
Fraser, Bill Labour St Kilda
Freer, Warren Labour Mount Albert
Friedlander, Tony National New Plymouth
Gair, George National North Shore
Gill, Frank National East Coast Bays
Harrison, Richard National Hawkes Bay
Hercus, Ann Labour Lyttelton
Highet, Allan National Remuera
Holland, Eric National Fendalton
Hunt, Jonathan Labour New Lynn
Hunt, Pat National Pakuranga
Isbey, Eddie Labour Papatoetoe
Jones, Dail National Helensville
Jones, Norm National Invercargill
Kidd, Doug National Marlborough
Kirk, John Labour Sydenham
Lange, David Labour Mangere
Luxton, John National Matamata
Gray, Robin National Clutha
MacDonell, Brian Labour Dunedin Central
MacIntyre, Duncan National East Cape
Marshall, Russell Labour Wanganui
Maxwell, Ralph Labour Waitakere
McLachlan, Colin National Selwyn
McLay, Jim National Birkenhead
McLean, Ian National Tarawera
Minogue, Mike National Hamilton West
Moore, Mike Labour Papanui
Muldoon, Robert National Tamaki
Peters, Winston National Hunua
Quigley, Derek National Rangiora
Ridley, Jack Labour Taupo
Rodger, Stan Labour Dunedin North
Rogers, Frank Labour Onehunga
Rowling, Bill Labour Tasman
Schultz, Leo National Hauraki
Shearer, Ian National Hamilton East
Talbot, Rob National Ashburton
Talboys, Brian National Wallace
Templeton, Hugh National Ohariu
Terris, John Labour Western Hutt
Thompson, Geoff National Horowhenua
Thomson, David National Taranaki
Tizard, Bob Labour Otahuhu
Townshend, Bruce National Kaimai
Walding, Joe Labour Palmerston North
Wall, Gerard Labour Porirua
Waring, Marilyn National Waipa
Wellington, Merv National Papakura
Wilkinson, Peter National Kaipara
Young, Bill National Miramar
Young, Trevor Labour Eastern Hutt
Young, Venn National Waitotara



Summary of changes[edit]

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


  1. ^ Atkinson, Neill (2003), Adventures in Democracy: A History of the Vote in New Zealand, Dunedin: University of Otago Press, pp.187-88, 191-3.