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New Zealand general election, 1935

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1935 General Election
Michael Joseph Savage

Michael Joseph Savage
Gordon Coates

Gordon Coates
George William Forbes

George Forbes
Leader Since:
Leaders seat:
Auckland West
Last election:
24 seats
28 seats
19 seats
Seats Won:
53 seats
8 seats
7 seats
Popular vote:
Harold Rushworth

Harold Rushworth
Eruera Tirikatene

Eruera Tirikatene
T.C.A. Hislop

Thomas Hislop
Country Party
Ratana Party
Leader Since:
Leaders seat:
Bay of Islands
Southern Maori
not elected
Last election:
1 seat
0 seats
party not yet founded
Seats Won:
2 seats
2 seats
0 seats
Popular vote:

The 1935 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 25th term. It resulted in the Labour Party's first electoral victory, with Michael Joseph Savage becoming the first Labour Prime Minister.

The governing coalition, consisting of the United Party and the Reform Party, suffered a major defeat, attributed by many to their handling of the Great Depression. The year after the election, United and Reform took their coalition further, merging to form the modern National Party.

The election was originally scheduled to be held in 1934, in keeping with the country's three year election cycle. The governing coalition postponed the election by one year in the hope that the current economic conditions would improve by 1935.[1]


Since 1931, New Zealand had been governed by a coalition of the United Party and the Reform Party. United and Reform had traditionally been enemies – United was a revival of the old Liberal Party, a progressive party with a strong urban base, while Reform was a conservative party with a strong rural base.

When the 1928 elections left United and Reform with an equal number of seats, United managed to obtain support from the growing Labour Party in order to govern, but in 1931, the worsening depression prompted a dispute over economic policy, and Labour withdrew its backing.

Reform then agreed to go into coalition with United, fearing that an election would lead to significant gains for the "socialistic" Labour. The coalition held on to power in the 1931 elections, but the ongoing economic troubles made the government deeply unpopular, and by the time of the 1935 elections, Labour's support was soaring.


The Dominion, a Wellington newspaper, printed anti-Labour advertisements and editorials, though ignored by most voters. On Sunday 24 November, shortly before the election, an address by Colin Scrimgeour ("Uncle Scrim") on the Friendly Road radio station, which was expected to urge listeners to vote Labour, was jammed by the Post Office.

The electionEdit

The number of electorates being contested was 80, a number which had been fixed since the 1902 Electoral Redistribution.[2]

Four of those were Māori electorates, and those elections were held on 26 November. 19 candidates contested the four available positions, and in three out of four cases, the incumbents were returned.

The election in the European electorates was held on the following day, a Wednesday. A total of 246 candidates contested the 76 European electorates, between two and six per electorate (Wellington East had six candidates, and there was a contest in all electorates), i.e. an average of 3.2 candidates per electorate. 919,798 people were registered to vote in European electorates (enrolment data for Māori electorates are only available since the 1954 election), and there was a turnout of 90.75%. This turnout was considerably higher than the turnout in the previous election (84.26%) and the highest turnout so far, but still about average for the next decades.

Elsie Andrews (1888–1948) was one of only three women who stood for election in this year.




Layout of Parliament after the 1935 election.

The 1935 election saw a massive win for the opposition Labour Party, which won fifty-three seats, and formed the First Labour Government. The governing coalition won only nineteen, and three ministers were defeated (in Hamilton, Tauranga and Waitaki). This difference was not so great in the popular vote, however, with Labour winning 45.7% to the coalition's 33.5%. Apart from Labour and the coalition, the only two groups to win places in Parliament were the Country Party and the Ratana movement, both of which gained two seats.

Four independents were elected, Harry Atmore, David McDougall, Charles Wilkinson and Robert Wright. 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 supported National while Atmore and McDougall supported Labour. Labour did not stand candidates against the two Country Party members.

Many commentators blamed the coalition's failure to win seats on vote splitting by the Democrat Party, an "anti-socialist" group founded by a former organiser for the governing coalition, Albert Davy, and headed by Thomas Hislop, the Mayor of Wellington. Perhaps as many as eight seats were an unexpected bonus to Labour because of the three-way split. The Democrats won 7.8% of the vote, but no seats.

Two future National MPs stood unsucessfully: Frederick Doidge stood as an Independent for Rotorua and came second, and Matthew Oram stood for the Democrats in Manawatu and came fourth.[3]

An analysis of men and women on the rolls against the votes recorded showed that in 1935 90.75% of those on the European rolls voted; men 92.02% and women 89.46%. In the 1938 election the figures were 92.85% with men 93.43% and women 92.27%. As the Māori electorates did not have electoral rolls they could not be included.[4][5]

Party totalsEdit

Election results
Party Votes Percentage Seats change
Labour 389,911 45.73 53 +29
United/Reform Coalition 285,422 33.48 15 −25
Democrats 66,695 7.82 0 -
Country Party 9,468 1.67 2 +1
Ratana Party 6,249 0.73 2 +1
Independents 90,089 10.57 4 −1
Total 852,637 80


  1. Simpson, Tony. "The Sugarbag Years". 1990 Penguin Books p. 212.
  2. General elections 1853–2005 – dates & turnout. Elections New Zealand. Retrieved on 12 January 2011.
  3. Government overwhelmed, People's emphatic mandate, Democrat Party rejected. Papers Past (28 November 1935).
  4. New Zealand Official Year-book, 1942 p778
  5. The New Zealand Official Year-Book, 1942. Government Printer (28 June 2015).
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