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Paul F. Whiteley, "Is the party over? The decline of party activism and membership across the democratic world," Party Politics, 17 (January, 2011), 21-44 [Available at ]

First paragraph:
The long-term decline in party activism and grassroots party membership in Europe is now well documented, although it is not well understood (Dalton, 2005; Katz et al., 1992; Mair, 1994; Mair and Van Biezen, 2001; Scarrow, 2000; Whiteley and Seyd, 1998). In this article, I examine whether a similar process of decline is taking place in other democratic countries as well as in Europe. This topic is important because political parties continue to play a central role in the governance of modern democracies, and so a decline in their voluntary base has important implications for the future of democracy. Such a decline is likely to weaken civil society by undermining key relationships between citizens and the state, many of which are sustained by political parties (Dalton and Wattenberg, 2000; Scarrow, 1996; Webb et al., 2002).

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Party membership in 36 countries in 2004
Figure 2. Percentages of former party members in 36 countries in 2004
Figure 3. Changes in party membership in 25 countries 1989-99 to 1999-2004
Table 2. Multinomial logistic models of party membership and activism
Table 3. The multi-level random intercept models of party involvement Activists Members
Table 4. Best aggregate-level random intercept and slope models of party involvement

Last Paragraph:
(First paragraph of conclusion) Party activism and membership have been declining across most of the democratic world. However, this decline has not been effectively explained in earlier research, in part because a full explanation requires long-run longitudinal data which are simply not available. The present analysis uses cross-sectional data suggesting that state regulation is playing an important part in this process. As parties get closer to the state and become more professionalized, they find it easier to ignore their volunteers, while at the same time expecting them to take on more regulatory burdens. Party leaders have little incentive to recruit and retain new members if the taxpayers pick up the costs of running the party organization. The data suggest that there is a generational dimension to these trends, with the recruitment of new age cohorts being problematic everywhere, but particularly so in high-regulation countries. Thus, the state itself may be smothering party activity.

Last updated December 2011