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Luis Ramiro and Laura Morales, "Examining the 'demand' side of the market for political activism: Party and civil society grassroots activists in Spain," Party Politics, 20 (July, 2014), 506-520. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol20/issue4/ ]

First paragraph:
Citizen participation in civil society and political organizations is key to the functioning of democratic polities. Civil society organizations (CSOs) -- particularly those devoted to advocacy goals -- and political organizations are one of the main channels available for citizens to express, communicate and get their political preferences enacted. In recent decades, we have seen an increase in the study of citizen involvement in organizations, and of its different varieties and determinants. This interest stems from its inclusion in standard definitions of political participation, which comprise, among other forms of political activity, citizen engagement in organizations (Barnes et al., 1979; Nie and Verba, 1975; Van Deth et al., 2007; Verba et al., 1978, 1995). The recent debates around the importance of associations for democracy -- particularly their role in the production of social capital and as 'schools of democracy' -- as well as the discussion around the alleged crisis of political involvement in contemporary democracies have provided many insights to this field and kept the study of organizational involvement at the forefront of the discipline (Cohen and Rogers, 1992; Putnam, 1993; Rogers and Cohen, 1995)

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Socio-economic background of political CSOs and Green party activists (percentages).
Table 2. Political socialization and recruitment pathways (percentages).
Table 3. Political attitudes.
Figure 1. Time spent on the organization per month.
Table 4. Engagement in political activities in the last 12 months (%).
Table 5. Frequency of political discussion (%).
Table 6. Multinomial logistics models of membership in parties and CSOs (logit coefficients).

Last Paragraph:
What does all this tell us about the larger picture of the current crisis of party membership? In our view, this paints a rather gloomy picture for the chances that political parties have of being able to counterbalance the current trends in declining membership -- if they are, indeed, concerned about this at all, which is a related but different matter. Green parties, with their emphasis in grassroots activism and internal participatory democracy, are possibly among the best placed to compete in this market for political activists with CSOs, and even they don't seem to fare that well. It might be that if political parties keep trying (harder) to 'rebrand' themselves they might still be able to convince citizens that they are still worth their time and efforts, but it seems more likely that it might be as futile as trying to convince vegetarians to buy meat. And, if this is the case, we might wonder whether conceiving the current challenges that political parties are facing with declining memberships as one of a market for political activism in which they compete with CSOs is heuristically useful.

Last updated June 2014