New Zealand general election, 1981

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New Zealand general election, 1981
New Zealand
1978 ←
28 November 1981 (1981-11-28)
→ 1984

All 92 seats for 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 No image.png
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 won 47 43 2
Seat change Decrease4 Increase3 Increase1
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.

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.

The election[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

Party totals[edit]

Party Candidates Total votes Percentage Seats won
National Party 92 698,508 38.77% 47
Labour Party 92 702,630 39.01% 43
Social Credit Party 92 372,056 20.65% 2
Mana Motuhake 4 8,332 0.46% -
Values Party 17 3,460 0.19% -
(including Mel Courtney and Aubrey Begg)
3 11,221 0.62% -
Miscellaneous 39 5,096 0.28% -
Total 338 1,801,303 92

Map of electorates[edit]


Individual electorate results[edit]

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. [1]
Electorate Incumbent Winner Majority Runner up
General electorates
Albany Don McKinnon B Mockridge (Labour)
Ashburton Rob Talbot A J Srhoy (Labour)
Auckland Central Richard Prebble R D Reid (National)
Avon Mary Batchelor C M McNicholl (National)
Awarua Rex Austin R G Fitzgerald (Labour)
Bay of Islands Neill Austin Leslie William Hunter
Birkenhead Jim McLay H W Smith (Labour)
Christchurch Central Geoffrey Palmer I G B Wilson
Clutha Robin Gray Clive Matthewson (Labour)
Dunedin Central Brian MacDonell N R King (National)
Dunedin North Stan Rodger C D Bleach (National)
East Cape Duncan MacIntyre P A Dey (Labour)
East Coast Bays Gary Knapp 758 Don Brash (National)
Eastern Hutt Trevor Young A J Duthie (National)
Eden Aussie Malcolm I K Scott (Labour)
Fendalton Eric Holland Philip Burdon D C Close (Labour)
Gisborne Bob Bell Allan Wallbank (Labour)
Hamilton East Ian Shearer L J Welch (Labour)
Hamilton West Mike Minogue P O McCaffrey (Labour)
Hastings David Butcher H F W Kynoch
Hauraki Leo Schultz Graeme Lee 1787 G O Miller (Social Credit)
Hawkes Bay Richard Harrison M E (Mike) Cullen (Labour)
Helensville Dail Jones 216 Jack Elder (Labour)
Heretaunga Ron Bailey Bill Jeffries R A J Palmer (National)
Horowhenua Geoffrey Thompson D G Page (Labour)
Hunua Winston Peters Colin Moyle 996 Winston Peters (National)
Invercargill Norman Jones Dougal Soper
Island Bay Frank O'Flynn D H Catley (National)
Kaimai Bruce Townshend D J F Conway
Kaipara Peter Wilkinson N C Connachy (Social Credit)
Kapiti Barry Brill Margaret Shields Barry Brill (National)
King Country Jim Bolger D H Mason (Labour)
Lyttelton Ann Hercus Simon Stamers-Smith (National)
Manawatu Michael Cox D G Kessell (Labour)
Mangere David Lange J F Pettit
Manurewa Roger Douglas K T Ralph
Marlborough Doug Kidd G E Macann (Labour)
Matamata Jack Luxton D R Mawdsley (Social Credit)
Miramar Bill Young Peter Neilson Bill Young (National)
Mt Albert Warren Freer Helen Clark Warren W Moyes (National)
Napier Gordon Christie Geoff Braybrooke K J Rose (National)
Nelson Mel Courtney[nb 1] Philip Woollaston 698 Mel Courtney (Independent)
New Lynn Jonathan Hunt R A Hanson (National)
New Plymouth Tony Friedlander D W Duggan (Labour)
North Shore George Gair P G Chambers (Labour)
Ohariu Hugh Templeton N R Ely
Onehunga Fred Gerbic Sue Wood (National)
Otago Warren Cooper
Otahuhu Bob Tizard S McDowell (National)
Pahiatua John Falloon Bill Sutton (Labour)
Pakuranga Pat Hunt 783 Neil Morrison (Social Credit)
Palmerston North Joe Walding Trevor de Cleene 2,110 Brian Elwood (National)
Papakura Merv Wellington J S Cheeseman (Labour)
Papanui Mike Moore B S Keeley (National)
Papatoetoe Eddie Isbey 1,689 Roy McKeen
Pencarrow Fraser Colman Willard Amaru
Porirua Gerard Wall E A Brittain (Social Credit)
Rangiora Derek Quigley C G M Hayward (Labour)
Rangiriri Bill Birch R Hayward (Labour)
Rangitikei Bruce Beetham P M Bardwell (National)
Remuera Allan Highet Judith Tizard (Labour)
Roskill Arthur Faulkner Phil Goff C A Parsons (National)
Rotorua Paul East 1,544 Johnny W Lepper (Labour)
St Albans David Caygill J D Baker (National)
St Kilda William Fraser Michael Cullen Stewart Clark (National)
Selwyn Colin McLachlan Ruth Richardson W E Woods (Labour)
Sydenham John Kirk R R Bach (Social Credit)
Tamaki Robert Muldoon Richard Northey (Labour)
Taranaki David Thomson B J Heilihy (Social Credit)
Tarawera Ian McLean N Scott
Tasman Bill Rowling 2,246 E L Kramer (National)
Taupo Jack Ridley Roger McClay[nb 2] 36 J W Ridley (Labour)
Tauranga Keith Allen T P Hills (Social Credit)
Te Atatu Michael Bassett S Noble
Timaru Basil Arthur Jane Coughlan (National)
Waikato Lance Adams-Schneider Simon Upton N W Johnstone (Social Credit)
Waipa Marilyn Waring (Labour)
Wairarapa Ben Couch 1,546 T Gemmell (Labour)
Waitakere Ralph Maxwell M R Gummer (National)
Waitaki Jonathan Elworthy Jim Sutton (Labour)
Waitotara Venn Young S K Young (Social Credit)
Wallace Brian Talboys Derek Angus O W Horton (Social Credit)
Wanganui Russell Marshall Terry Heffernan (Social Credit)
Wellington Central Ken Comber Fran Wilde Ken Comber (National)
West Coast Kerry Burke D J Truman (National)
Western Hutt John Terris J W Tanner (National)
Whangarei John Elliott John Banks M E Penney (Labour)
Yaldhurst Mick Connelly 1,962 Mrs M E Murray (National)
Māori electorates
Eastern Maori Paraone Reweti Peter Tapsell 6,232 A Tahana (Mana Motuhake)
Northern Maori Bruce Gregory 3,665 Matiu Rata (Mana Motuhake)
Southern Maori Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan 8,945 N A Reedy (Mana Motuhake)
Western Maori Koro Wētere 8,624 Eva Rickard (Mana Motuhake)

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[edit]

  • The seats of Hunua, Kapiti, Miramar and Wellington Central were won from incumbent National MPs by Labour challengers. The challengers in question were Colin Moyle, Margaret Shields, Peter Neilson and Fran Wilde, respectively. The defeated incumbents were Winston Peters, Barry Brill, Bill Young and Ken Comber, respectively.
  • The seat of Taupo was won from the incumbent Labour MP by a National challenger. The challenger was Roger McClay and the defeated incumbent was Jack Ridley.
  • The seats of Heretaunga, Mt. Albert, Napier, Palmerston North, Roskill, St. Kilda and Northern Maori passed from incumbent Labour MPs to new Labour MPs.
  • In Nelson, Mel Courtney achieved the best result by an Independent candidate in New Zealand Elections in nearly forty years.
  • The seats of Fendalton, Hauraki, Selwyn and Whangarei passed from incumbent National MPs to new National MPs. Two of these changes were the result of MPs retiring, but two (in Selwyn and Whangarei) were the result of controversial challenges to the re-selection of the incumbents. In Selwyn, Ruth Richardson successfully challenged the re-nomination of incumbent Colin McLachlan, and in Whangarei, John Banks successfully challenged the re-nomination of incumbent John Elliott.


  1. ^ Norton 1988, pp. ?.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.