1938 General Election
Michael Joseph Savage

Michael Joseph Savage
Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton
Leader Since:
Leaders seat:
Auckland West
Last election:
53 seats
party not yet founded
Seats Won:
Popular vote:

The 1938 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the Parliament of New Zealand'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 Party-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 electionEdit

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 Bay of Islands and Franklin, 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 Nelson and Charles Wilkinson Egmont. 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.

Party standingsEdit

Election results
Party Votes Percentage Seats won change
Labour 528,290 55.80 53 ±0
National 381,081 40.30 25 +6
Independents 37,022 3.90 2 -3
Total 946,393 80


  1. General elections 1853-2005 - dates & turnout. Elections New Zealand. Retrieved on 12 January 2011.
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