The rural vote and the rise of the Labour Party, 1931-1935
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The 1935 general election and the first Labour government have iconic status in New Zealand history. After a belated rise, Labour initiated a raft of social reforms - the birth of the welfare state-and remained in office 14 years, an exceptionally good record by any standards for a left-wing party. In a radical voting realignment a decisive number of formerly conservative-voting rural electorates became Labour's new allies and gave the party a handsome majority. Assuming that rural voters largely comprised farmers, historians speculated that the Great Depression (1929-34) was the catalyst for an alliance - unthinkable under ordinary circumstances - of farmers and urban manual workers. Initially impressionistic, the claims gained decisive support from two pioneering quantitative analyses in the late 1940s, and have remained an unchallenged convention in the historiography. This thesis tests the convention. It takes 10 farming electorates encompassing 505 polling places, and in each case correlates occupations and party votes. The database reveals surprising heterogeneity between and within rural electorates: in particular, the data featured higher numbers of urban manual and white-collar workers than previously has been believed. Other claims tested encompass farm worker and white-collar worker allegiance; minor party voting; voter turnout; and population changes. Besides refuting the major claim that farmers generally voted Labour in 1935, the data reveal that in fact there were fewer farmers than manual workers (not including farm workers) in most of the 10 rural electorates studied. Moreover, the data suggest that voter realignment - only ever conceived as a leftward shift by farmers - operated simultaneously in two directions; that is, some manuals voted conservative. Chosen for their typicality, the ten cases offer a verdict that is predicted to extrapolate to other rural electorates.