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The road to MMP

Page 4 – Putting it to the vote

In the early 1990s Jim Bolger's National government found itself under increasing pressure to respond to public demands for electoral reform. It agreed to hold an indicative referendum (that is, one that was not binding on the government) on the issue on 19 September 1992. That date, incidentally, was the 99th anniversary of the signing into law of New Zealand's last great electoral reform – the women's suffrage legislation of 1893.

The 1992 referendum

In a complicated two-part poll, voters were asked whether they wanted to change the existing voting system and then to indicate support for one of four reform options: mixed member proportional representation (MMP), the single transferable vote (STV), supplementary member (SM) or preferential vote (PV). If there was majority support for change, the government promised to hold a binding referendum (with a choice between the first past the post (FPP) system and the most popular reform option) the following year.

Although only 55% of registered electors took part, an overwhelming 85% voted to change their electoral system. In the second part of the poll, 70% favoured MMP. As Labour leader Mike Moore put it: 'The people didn't speak on Saturday. They screamed.'

The second poll

The second, binding referendum – a straight run off between FPP and MMP – was held at the same time as the 1993 general election. There were now well-organised lobby groups on both sides of the debate, and the campaign was fiercely contested. A barrage of television and newspaper advertisements sought to sway undecided voters.

As the poll was held alongside a general election, the turnout – 85% – was naturally much higher than in 1992. And the result was much closer. MMP was still backed by a comfortable margin, 54% to 46%. New Zealand was to have a new voting system.

How to cite this page

Putting it to the vote, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated