Soldiers and Social Change: The Forces Vote in the Second World War and New Zealand’s Great Experiment in Social Citizenship

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Abstract

Labour’s victory in the 1943 New Zealand general election allowed the party to set the political agenda in New Zealand not only for the remainder of the Second World War, but, arguably, for forty years thereafter. The outcome of the election hinged on the votes of service personnel engaged in fighting the Second World War. This paper examines why soldiers, airmen and sailors voted overwhelmingly for Labour in 1943. The papers shows, by conducting the first social class survey of an army in the Second World War, that the forces vote was not determined by the socio-economic background of the military cohort. Instead, through use of censorship summaries of the soldiers’ mail and the detailed returns showing the number of votes recorded for each candidate at each polling-place in the election, the paper finds that the most persuasive explanation for the pattern of voting among service personnel was their degree of participation in the war effort. The closer to combat a cohort of voters found themselves, the more they were inclined to manifest strong beliefs in fairness, social justice and ‘big Government’, key aspects of the Labour manifesto, in their franchise. A spirit of social cohesion had emerged from the exigencies of combat cohesion with profound implications for the future of New Zealand.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-100
Number of pages28
JournalThe English Historical Review
Volume132
Issue number554
Early online date2 May 2017
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 May 2017

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