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Voter turnout


General elections: The proportion of the estimated voting-age population (aged 18 years and over) who cast a vote in general elections.

Local authority elections: The proportion of all enrolled electors (both resident and ratepayer) who cast a vote in contested local authority elections.


Voter turnout rates are an indicator of the extent to which citizens participate in the political process, and the confidence the population has in, and the importance they attach to, political institutions.

Current level and trends

1. General elections

Voter turnout of the eligible population in 2008 was 76 per cent, a slight decline from 77 per cent in 2005. Voter participation in general elections declined sharply from 89 per cent in 1984 to 78 per cent in 1990, increased slightly to 81 per cent in 1996, then declined again to a new low of 72.5 per cent in 2002. 

Figure CP1.1 Proportion of estimated voting-age population who cast votes, 1984–2008

Figure CP1.1 Proportion of estimated voting-age population who cast votes, 1984–2008

Sources: Electoral Commission (2002); Electoral Commission (2005); Electoral Commission (2008a)
Note: 1984, 2005 and 2008 figures were calculated by the Ministry of Social Development

Age, sex, ethnic and socio-economic differences

Because of the nature of the secret ballot, information on differences in participation rates among various sectors of the New Zealand population is not directly available. Nevertheless, results from New Zealand election surveys over a number of years show non-voters are more likely to be people on lower incomes, younger people and members of Māori or Pacific ethnic groups. There are few differences in voter turnout rates between men and women.

Regional differences

There are few discernible differences in voter turnout rates between rural and urban voters, although non-voting tends to be lowest in provincial cities.

International comparison

Using a different definition of voter turnout (the proportion of the registered population who voted), New Zealand was ranked 10th out of 30 OECD countries with a voter turnout rate of 79 per cent in 2008.80 This was higher than the OECD median of 74 per cent for recent elections. New Zealand’s voter turnout rate was lower than that of Australia, where voting is compulsory (95 per cent in 2007), but higher than those of Canada (59 per cent in 2008), the United Kingdom (62 per cent in 2005) and the United States (62 per cent in 2008).

Current level and trends

2. Local authority elections

Voter turnout in the 2007 local authority elections was 44 per cent, down from 46 per cent in 2004.81 This was the lowest turnout since the restructuring of local government in 1989. Voter turnout peaked at 61 per cent in 1992 and has declined steadily since then, except between 1995 and 1998 when it increased from 53 per cent to 55 per cent.  

The drop in turnout between 2004 and 2007 was relatively constant across all types of local authorities, with falls of two or three percentage points.

In 2007, there were 249 elected local authorities in New Zealand: 12 regional councils, 21 district health boards, 16 city councils, 57 district councils and 143 community boards.

Table CP1.1 Voter turnout (%) in local authority elections, 1989–2007

  1989 1992 1995 1998 2001 2004 2007
Regional councils 56 52 48 53 49 45 43
District health boards 50 46 43
Territorial authorities
City councils 52 48 49 51 45 43 41
City mayors 50 48 49 51 45 43 41
District councils 67 61 59 61 57 51 49
District mayors 67 61 59 59 56 52 49
Community boards 54 49 50 50 46 42 41

Source: Department of Internal Affairs (2006) Table 3.3; Department of Internal Affairs (2009) Table 4.3
Notes: (1) DHBs were established in 2001(2) Trusts are not included because they are not local authorities

The 2007 election results continued the pattern of previous local authority elections, with smaller and South Island communities tending to register a higher voter turnout across all election types. The highest voter turnout in regional council elections was for the West Coast Regional Council (57 per cent), followed by Taranaki (52 per cent). Turnout was lower than the regional council average of 43 per cent in Waikato (37 per cent) and Auckland (38 per cent).

Local authority voter turnout is highest for district councils, especially those in the South Island. In the 2007 district council elections, voter turnout in the South Island was 53 per cent, compared with 47 per cent in the North Island. Smaller local authorities and small district health boards also attracted a higher turnout than larger local authorities. Voter turnout ranged from 54 per cent for small district councils to 39 per cent for large city councils.

» View technical details about the voter turnout indicator