- New Zealand general election, 1984
1984 general election 1981 ← 14 July 1984 → 1987 All 95 seats in the New Zealand House of Representatives
48 seats needed for a majority
First party Second party Leader David Lange Sir Robert Muldoon Party Labour National Leader since 1983 1974 Leader's seat Mangere Tamaki Seats won 56 37 Seat change 13 10 Popular vote 829,154 692,494 Percentage 43.0% 35.9% Swing 4.0% 2.9%
Prime Minister before election
Elected Prime Minister
The 1984 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the 41st New Zealand Parliament. It marked the beginning of the Fourth Labour Government, with David Lange's Labour Party defeating long-serving Prime Minister Robert Muldoon of the National Party. It was also the last election in which the Social Credit Party won seats as an independent entity. The election was also the only one in which the New Zealand Party, a protest party, played any substantial role.
Before the election, the National Party governed with 47 seats, a small majority. The opposition Labour Party held 43 seats, and the Social Credit Party held two. Although National theoretically commanded a two-seat lead over the other parties, dissent within the National caucus (particularly by Marilyn Waring and Mike Minogue) resulted in serious problems for National leader Robert Muldoon.
The 1984 election was called when Marilyn Waring told Muldoon that she would not support his government in the vote over an opposition-sponsored anti-nuclear bill. Muldoon, visibly drunk, announced a snap election on national television. There is debate over whether the election was necessary — Waring had not threatened to block confidence and supply, meaning that the government could still have continued on even if it had lost the anti-nuclear vote. Nevertheless, Muldoon appears to have wanted an election to reinforce his mandate (just as Sidney Holland sought and won a mandate to oppose striking dock-workers with the 1951 snap election).
Muldoon's government, which had been growing increasingly unpopular in its third term, was seen as rigid, inflexible, and increasingly unresponsive to public concerns. The Labour Party had actually gained a plurality of the vote in the previous two elections, but had narrowly missed out on getting a majority of the seats. Labour's primary campaign message was one of change — Muldoon's government, which employed wage and price controls in an attempt to "guide" the economy, was widely blamed for poor economic performance. Labour also campaigned to reduce government borrowing.
The New Zealand Party, founded by property tycoon Bob Jones, was launched primarily to oppose the Muldoon government (although it did not support Labour). A right-wing liberal party, it promoted less government control over markets, in contrast to the paternalist and somewhat authoritarian policies of National, the other significant right-wing party.
The election was held on 14 July. There were 2,111,651 registered voters. Turnout was 93.7%, the highest turnout ever recorded in a New Zealand election. Most political scientists attribute the high turnout to a desire by voters for change.
Immediately after the election there was a constitutional crisis when Muldoon initially refused to follow the advice of the incoming Labour government and devalue the New Zealand Dollar.
Summary of results
The 1984 election saw the Labour Party win 56 of the 95 seats in parliament, a gain of 13. This was enough for it to hold an outright majority and become the fourth Labour government. The National Party won only 37 seats, a loss of ten. The New Zealand Party, despite winning 12.2% of the vote, failed to gain any seats at all. Social Credit managed to win two seats, the same number as it had held previously. The Values Party, an environmentalist group, gained fifth place, but no seats.
Party Candidates Total votes Percentage Seats won Labour Party 95 829,154 43.0% 56 National Party 95 692,494 35.9% 37 New Zealand Party 95 236,385 12.2% - Social Credit Party 95 147,162 7.6% 2 Values Party 29 3,826 0.2% - Independents
(incl. Mel Courtney, Brian MacDonell and Jack Ridley)
3 10,750 0.56% - Others 54 9,430 0.49% - Total 466 1,929,201 95
There were 95 seats being contested in the 1984 election, three more than in the previous parliament. All but two of these seats were won by one of the two major parties.
The Labour Party, previously in opposition, won 56 seats, an outright majority. Most of the seats won by Labour were in urban areas, following the party's typical pattern. Exceptions to this general trend include the eastern tip of the North Island and the western coast of the South Island. Labour's strongest regions were the Wellington area (where the party won every seat), as well as Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin (cities in which it won most seats). Smaller cities such as Hamilton, Nelson, Napier, Hastings and Palmerston North were also won by Labour. As expected, Labour also won all four Māori seats, maintaining its traditional strength there.
The National Party, the incumbent government, was (as expected) strongest in rural areas. Most of the rural North Island was won by National, as were a most of the rural areas on the South Island's eastern coast. In the larger cities, the party fared poorly, with Auckland and Christchurch being the only places that the party won seats. It was more successful in smaller cities, however, winning Rotorua, Tauranga, Invercargill, New Plymouth and Whangarei. It was placed second in two Māori electorates, and third in the other two.
The only minor party to win electorates was the Social Credit Party, which won East Coast Bays and Pakuranga (both in Auckland). It had held East Coast Bays before the election, but won Pakuranga for the first time. It did not manage to retain Rangitikei, which it had also held before the election. Social Credit candidates were placed second in six electorates, including Rangitikei.
The New Zealand Party, despite gaining more votes than Social Credit, did not win any seats. Some commentators have suggested that the party was not seeking to do so, and instead was merely acting as a spoiler for National. This impression has been backed up by comments by Bob Jones himself. The party was, however, placed second in the electorates of Remuera (an affluent part of Auckland), Kaimai (a region in the Bay of Plenty), and Tauranga.
The Values Party, an environmentalist group, managed to win 0.2% of the vote, substantially below previous efforts. The party, which was in slow decline, would eventually vanish, but its ideals and goals would be reborn in the Green Party.
In two of the Māori electorates, the Mana Motuhake party gained second place, but the party did not gain a substantial number of votes elsewhere.
No independent candidates won seats, but one independent candidate, Mel Courtney, was placed second in the electorate of Nelson.
Summary of changes
- Eleven new seats were created, of which seven (Christchurch North, Dunedin West, Glenfield, Otara, Panmure, Tongariro and West Auckland) were won by Labour, and four (Franklin, Raglan, Rodney and Waikaremoana) by National.
- A further eleven seats were won by Labour from National: East Cape, Eden, Hamilton East, Hamilton West, Hawkes Bay, Horowhenua, Ohariu, Pakuranga, Rangitikei, Wairarapa and Waitaki.
- Nine electorates had incumbent MPs retire and replaced them with MPs from the same party, six National and three Labour. Kaipara, Rangiora, Taranaki, Tauranga, Waikato and Waipa remained National, while Sydenham, Tasman and Yaldhurst remained Labour. In Rangiora, National MP Derek Quigley's decision not to stand for re-election followed serious clashes with Muldoon over economic policy, while in Sydenham, John Kirk had resigned from the Labour Party.
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