The by-election was contested by all major parties. It was won by Bruce Beetham, the Social Credit Party candidate, with a majority of 1,335. He became the second Social Credit Party MP in New Zealand's history. This upset was extremely rare in the post-war political climate of New Zealand, especially in a rural electorate that traditionally voted National (although such voting is more likely in a by-election). The National Party candidate Jim Bull came second, the Labour Party candidate (and rugby coach) Dr J.J. Stewart came third and the Values Party candidate Dr Denis Hocking came fourth. Ironically, J.J. Stewart was a former teacher of Beetham's at New Plymouth Boys' High School who once gave him a caning.
Beetham was the Social Credit leader and had polled a strong second in the seat in 1975. National was hampered as its candidate was only a stand in until the general election later in the year. Sir Roy Jack had planned to retire then, to be replaced by the Minister of Education Les Gandar whose Ruahine seat had been abolished in boundary changes.