Return to: Search Page or to: Table of Contents Vol. 9, issue 1

Pippa Norris, "Preaching to the Converted? Pluralism, Participation and Party Websites," Party Politics, 9 (January 2003), 21-45.

First Paragraph:
Both participation and pluralism are widely regarded as core values in democracy. There is widespread agreement among varied democratic theorists, ranging from Jean Jacques Rousseau to James Madison, John Stuart Mill, Robert Dahl, Benjamin Barber David Held and John Dryzak, that mass participation is essential to the lifeblood of representative democracy, although conceptions differ sharply over how much civic engagement is thought either necessary or desirable (see, for example, the discussion in Held 1987). On the one hand, theories of 'strong' democracy suggest that citizen activism is intrinsically valuable. J. S. Mill argued that by actively participating in civic life, rather than allowing others to take decisions in their own interest, people learn and grow. In this view, involving the public can make better citizens, better policies and better governance. On the other hand, Schumpeterian democrats believe that the essential role of citizens should be relatively limited, confined principally to the periodic election of parliamentary representatives, along with the continuous scrutiny of government actions (Schumpeter, 1952). Nevertheless, even this minimalist view sees voting participation as one of the essential features of representative government, alongside many other institutional safeguards. Moreover, democratic theorists also share a broad consensus that pluralistic party competition is essential to representative government by providing citizens with a choice of candidates, leaders and policies, although once again there is dispute about how much party competition is believed to be necessary or desirable. If competition is excessively curtailed, so that some parties are legally banned from even standing for elected office, or limited in their ability to campaign and get their message across, then this is widely regarded as limiting how far elections can be regarded as free and fair, although at the same time there are often limits facing minor party challengers and independent candidates, such as the common use of electoral thresholds to discourage party fragmentation in parliament.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1: The contents of party websites
Table 2: Analysis of party websites by nation, EU--15 June 2000
Table 3: Summary score by party type, EU--15 June 2000
Table 4: Popular online activities
Table 5: Factor analysis of online activities
Table 6: Models predicting use of the Internet and of party websites, EU--15 June 2000
Figure 1: Use of political websites by age group
Figure 2: Use of political websites by left-right ideological self-placement
Figure 3: Use of poltiical websites by party vote

Last Paragraph:
Overall, the study suggests that party websites are likely to have greater impact on communication pluralism rather than by widening direct participation among disaffected groups, because these resources mainly reach citizens who are already most likely to be politically active, interested and engaged. Like traditional news media, politics on the Internet serves primanly to reinforce civic engagement (Norris, 2000). While party democracy is likely to be strengthened by this process, by further activating the most active, it is unclear whether the hopes of advocates of direct democracy will be realized through this development and whether other groups on the Internet can be persuaded to turn off their games, their online shopping or their music downloading for enough time to lend sustained attention to the political world. Perhaps, if politics matters, as the events of 11 September suggest, they can be persuaded. For how long is another matter.