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Marc Hooghe, Dietlind Stolle and Patrick Stouthuysen, "Head Start in Politics: The Recruitment Function of Youth Organizations of Political Parties in Belgium (Flanders)," Party Politics, 10 (March 2004), 193-212.

First Paragraph:
For at least two decades now, party membership has been declining in most liberal democracies (Dalton and Wattenberg, 2000; Mair, 1997: 124 ff.; Mair and van Biezen, 2001). Whereas in the 1960s roughly 13 percent of the electorate paid their dues as members of political parties, in the 1980s this proportion shrunk to 9 percent, and in the 1990s only 6 percent called themselves party members (Putnam, 2002: 406). Belgium has been n oexception to this trend. While in 1980 all Belgian political parties combined had 615,000 members (Deschouwer, 1992; Scarrow, 2000: 89), the latest figures stand at 455,000 members (Hooghe and Stouthuysen, 2003; Noppe, 2001). In relative terms this means that while in 1980 9.0 percent of the electorate was a party member, this has declined to 6.2 percent in 2000.1 This downward trend might signal that mass parties are losing ground in liberal democracies, only to be replaced by new types of political parties (Dalton and Wattenberg, 2000; Scarrow, 1996, 2000).

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Membership base of the major youth organizations in Flanders
Table 2. Previous membership of the youth organization
Table 3. Age for first candidacy and first mandate
Table 4. Reasons for first candidacy at local elections
Table 5. Self-confidence after first being elected
Table 6. Satisfaction about current function

Last Paragraph:
Although at this moment it cannot be predicted what kind of strategy party organizations will pursue, the most likely development is that in the foreseeable future, too, they will face an uphill battle if they want to recruit new members. The theoretical relevance of this investigation into youth sections, therefore, is that it lends credibility to the claim that in the near future parties will continue to lose members. Given the importance and the strength of youth socialization, it is likely that feelings of partisanship will continue to weaken if new recruits integrate into the party system only at a later age. Furthermore, it is extremely likely that they will do so in ever smaller numbers. Although these findings about one specific recruitment channel cannot fully address issues of party transformation in general, it is clear that the dramatic decline of youth organizations in political parties confirms the assumption that the days of mass membership parties may be gone forever.