New Zealand general election, 1981

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

All 92 seats for the New Zealand House of Representatives
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% increase1.4% 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

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

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


Individual electorate results

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

Summary of changes

  • 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.

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