A million eligible New Zealanders did not bother to vote in Saturday's election, producing the lowest turnout in percentage terms in 120 years.
Turnout dropped by just over 90,000, from 79.5 per cent of those on the rolls in 2008 to 73.8 per cent.
Except for an anomaly in 1978 when the rolls were inflated by outdated and duplicate entries, this was the lowest percentage turnout since 1887, when 67.1 per cent of those on the rolls voted. That was before women won the right to vote in 1893.
Moreover, only an estimated 93.2 per cent of the 3,276,000 people who were eligible to vote were enrolled, so the 2,254,581 people who did cast their votes (including special votes) leaves just over 1 million who stayed at home.
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Overseas votes included in this total plunged from an estimated 32,000 at the last election to 19,527.
The result reinforces a general downward trend in turnout since 1987 which has been broken significantly only twice - first when the mixed-member proportional system was introduced in 1996, and again in the 2005 election when the margin between Labour and National was the narrowest in recent memory.
Auckland University political scientist Dr Ray Miller said the turnout dropped again this time because the long-term downward trend was reinforced by lopsided pre-election polls which made an easy National victory look "a foregone conclusion".
"That would have been responsible for Labour voters staying at home, as well as some National voters," he said.
Labour's election-night vote dropped by 165,000 from its 2008 election-night tally. National's vote was up by 7000, but that was less than the increase in the population.
Dr Miller said there was growing concern around the world about a long-term decline in voting, especially by young adults. Only 77 per cent or 337,000 out of 438,000 eligible New Zealanders aged 18 to 24 were enrolled by Friday.
"They don't feel that what's going on politically is relevant to their lives," he said.