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Ingrid van Biezen and Thomas Poguntke, "The decline of membership-based politics," Party Politics, 20 (March 2014), 205-216.. [Available at ]

First paragraph:
Comparative research has shown that in recent decades party membership in European democracies has been in marked decline. The numbers of party members are falling, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the electorate. Parties are struggling to hold on to their membership organizations and are failing to recruit significant numbers of new members. While Duverger (1954) expected a 'contagion from the left' that would encourage parties across the political spectrum to adopt a similar organizational structure to that of the mass party, the emergence of the 'catchall party' in the late 1950s and early 1960s (Kirchheimer, 1966) not only challenged this conception of the political party as the representative of pre-defined sectors of society, it underlined the temporary nature of the mass party phenomenon. Katz and Mair's cartel party thesis drew attention to the next logical step: party members were becoming increasingly marginalized within party organizations, and large membership organizations served to validate the 'legitimizing myth' of party democracy rather than remain true vehicles of linkage between party elites and society at large (Katz, 1990; Katz and Mair, 1995: 18). Arguably, this could not remain without consequence for the abilty (and willingness) of parties to recruit members let alone hold on to them.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. Change in M/E ratios since the 1980s.
Figure 2. Change in M/E ratios since the late 1990s.
Figure 3. Annual change of M/E ratios compared.
Figure 4. Total party M/E ratios.
Table 1. Trade union density in OCED countries.
Figure 5. M/E ratios and trade union density.
Figure 6. Religious orientation over time.
Table 2. Religious orientation over time.

Last Paragraph:
Perhaps, in the age of modern democracy we simply no longer need the traditional organizational anchorage of party politicians. As Saward observes, whether or not democracy is unthinkable save in terms of political parties may no longer be the right question to ask. Instead, we may need to ask: 'what kinds of representative democracy are thinkable. And what forms of party [ . . . ], if any, are appropriate to them?' (Saward, 2008: 284). Increasingly, when citizens wish to make their voices heard, they are more likely to turn to interest groups, advocacy coalitions or the media than to political parties. In the past, interest groups tended to operate more under party aegis, as a complement to themore established partisan channels. In contemporary polities, however, interest groups operate quite independently of the parties, and in many ways offer an alternative, if not directly challenge, to the process of interest intermediation provided by parties. In this sense, parties have become more isolated and more removed from societal demands. At the same time, we are witnessing the development of various grassroots alternatives to traditional partisan mobilization, which are sometimes fuelled by social media networks.There is a growing interest in forms of direct, participatory and deliberative democracy that aim to give ordinary citizens more influence over the political process that falls outside the traditional and hierarchical partisan channels. Although they are as yet unlikely to offer a viable substitute to traditional party politics, they may come to complement the conventional vertical and hierarchical modes of politics within an increasingly horizontalized society.

Last updated March 2014