Serial referendums on alcohol prohibition in New Zealand (article)


Benoit Dostie and Ruth Dupré

Social Science History / Volume  40 / Issue 03 / Fall 2016, pp 491 – 521


The 1920s American prohibition of alcohol is notorious but not unique. Many countries experienced similar struggles. However, none went through such a protracted struggle as New Zealand, the only country to hold nationwide referendums on prohibition at every general election for almost eight decades from 1911 to 1987. Indeed, if the majority threshold of its first referendum in 1911 had been set at 50 percent instead of at 60 percent, New Zealand would have been the very first country in the world to become prohibitionist. In our empirical analysis, we focus on the first five of those referendums, held from 1911 to 1922, because the 1910s was the most critical period when the fight between Drys and Wets reached its highest intensity. We first investigate how the different referendum designs influenced voting patterns. This is possible because the district-level referendum results present rare features such as the participation rate by gender in 1911, the identification of the military votes in the two referendums of 1919, the option of prohibition with compensation in 1919, and from 1919, the addition of a state-control regime as a third option. Second, we estimate the effect of the main determinants of voting preferences identified in the historical and sociological literature on temperance and prohibition. Our results confirm the influence of two factors: (1) Evangelicals were more likely to be supporters of a total ban whereas Anglicans and Catholics were more moderate and (2) women were more likely to vote Dry.

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