New Zealand general election, 1938

New Zealand general election, 1938
New Zealand general election, 1938
New Zealand
1935 ←
14 (Māori) & 15 October (general) 1938
→ 1943

All 80 seats in the Parliament of New Zealand
41 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party
  Michael Joseph Savage.jpg Adam Hamilton (1926).jpg
Leader Michael Joseph Savage Adam Hamilton
Party Labour National
Leader since 1933 1936
Leader's seat Auckland West Wallace
Last election 53 seats, 46.1%% 19 seats, 32.9% (as United/Reform Coalition)
Seats won 53 25
Seat change steady 0 increase 9
Popular vote 528,290 381,081
Percentage 55.8% 40.3%
Swing increase 9.7% increase 7.4%

Prime Minister before election

Michael Joseph Savage

Elected Prime Minister

Michael Joseph Savage

The 1938 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 26th term. It resulted in the governing Labour Party being re-elected, although the newly-founded National Party gained a certain amount of ground.



The Labour Party had won a resounding victory in the 1935 elections, winning fifty-three seats. Shortly after the elections, the two Ratana-aligned MPs also merged into the Labour Party, giving Labour a total of fifty-five seats. The government, a coalition of the United Party and the Reform Party, had won only nineteen seats. Shortly after their defeat, United and Reform agreed to merge into the National Party, which positioned itself as the only alternative to the "socialist" Labour Party. However, Labour remained popular with the public, and the Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, was widely praised for his welfare reform. The leadership of the National Party, by contrast, was closely associated by the public with the Great Depression, and struggled to gain traction.

The election

The date for the main 1938 elections was 15 October, a Saturday. Elections to the four Maori electorates were held the day before. 995,173 people were registered to vote, and there was a turnout of 92.9%. This turnout was the highest ever recorded at that point, although it was later exceeded in the two elections after World War II and in the 1984 elections. The number of seats being contested was 80, a number which had been fixed since 1902.[1]


The 1938 election saw a decisive win for the governing Labour Party, which won fifty-three seats. This was a drop of two from what it held prior to the election. The National Party won twenty-five seats, an increase of six from that the United/Reform coalition had previously won. Both Labour and National increased their share of the popular vote, with Labour winning 55.8% (up from 46.1%) and National winning 40.3% (up from 32.9%). This increase was at the expense of the Democrat Party and the Country Party, which saw their votes collapse completely — the Democrats again failed to win a place in Parliament. The Country Party lost the two seats it held as, unlike 1935, Labour stood (unsuccessful) candidates against the two Country Party members.

Independent candidates also lost ground, with only two being elected, Harry Atmore and Charles Wilkinson. As in 1935, the independents were tactically supported by one of the major parties who did not stand a candidate against them, and they generally voted with that party; Wilkinson and Wright had supported National while Atmore had supported Labour. But Robert Wright was defeated for the new electorate of Wellington West by Labour despite National not running a candidate against him.[2]

Party Leader Votes Percentage Seats won change
Labour Michael Joseph Savage 528,290 55.8% 53 -2*
National Adam Hamilton 381,081 40.3% 25 +9
(including Harry Atmore & Charles Wilkinson)
37,022 3.9% 2 -3
Labour re-elected 946,393 100% 80
  • includes two Ratana MPs who joined the Labour caucus after the 1935 election


  1. ^ "General elections 1853-2005 - dates & turnout". Elections New Zealand. Retrieved 12 January 2011. 
  2. ^ Political Parties in New Zealand by R. S. Milne, p. 76 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1966)

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