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Susan E. Scarrow and Burcu Gezgor, "Declining memberships, changing members? European political party members in a new era," Party Politics, 16 (November, 2010), 823-843. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol16/issue6/ ]

First paragraph:
n recent years, many established political parties have experienced a seemingly paradoxical transformation: their memberships have shrunk, but at the same time individual party members have gained new powers to shape party policies and pick party candidates and leaders. In fact, these dual developments are not entirely coincidental: some parties have expanded intra-party democracy in direct response to declining membership and to growing public suspicion of political parties. These parties have given members new roles and new visibility in the hope of increasing both their own legitimacy and the appeal of party membership (Dalton, 2005; Dalton and Weldon, 2005). And even in parties that have not shifted new powers to members, in this hostile climate party members could be more important than ever for providing links between party leaders and local communities. For all these reasons, it is more important than ever to ask who is joining these shrinking parties. In particular, we want to know whether the decrease in party membership tends to be accompanied by a qualitative shift: as joining a party has become less common, have parties' members become less like other citizens?

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Enrolment in political parties as percentage of electorate
Table 2. Age and party membership. Percentage older party members compared with the general population
Table 3. Gender and party membership. Percentage male party members compared with the general population
Table 4. Education and party membership. Mean years schooling of party members compared with the general population
Table 5. Union membership and party members. Percentage union members compared with the general population
Table 6. Income and party members. Mean income of party members compared with the general population
Table 7. Religiosity and party membership. Percentage observant party members compared with the general population
Table 8. Ideology and party members. Party members compared with party supporters. Mean left-right self-placement
Table 9. Predictors of party membership
Figure 1. Effect of ideological extremism on party membership
Table 10. Predictors of left party membership
Appendix 1. Definitions and descriptive statistics for variables used in analyses: combined data

Last Paragraph:
These results present a mixed picture of the effects of party membership decline on the democratic process in European democracies. Party memberships may be shrinking, but at least so far this has not meant that parties' grassroots are becoming some kind of odd subculture, no longer able to provide legitimacy because they are too different from the rest of society. Parties' diminished ability to recruit has led to a striking shift in the age profiles of their memberships: the average age of party members has continued to increase, a highly visible difference that may make it harder for parties to project an image of being closely in touch with the people whose votes they are seeking. In other ways, however, not only have the differences between party members and the general public not increased; on dimensions like income, union membership and religiosity party members have become a lot more like the general population. In addition, there is no evidence that party membership organizations were becoming a refuge for a hard core of ideologically charged extremists; on this dimension, too, parties were becoming increasingly representative of their fellow citizens. Duverger's mass party - a term which for him also meant 'the party of the masses' - is becoming 'the party of the mean'. In other words, we find little sign here of the types of differences that 'May's Law' predicts.

Last updated October 2010