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Ingo Rohlfing, “Asset or liability? An analysis of the effect of changes in party membership on partisan ideological change”
Party Politics January 2015 21: 17-27

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First paragraph:

Party members form the backbone of political parties in both normative and empirical respects. From a normative point of view, members are the carriers of intra-party democracy and hold the party leadership accountable for its actions in party competition (StrÝm, 1990). Empirically, party members perform multiple and vital functions, such as the provision of capital and labour (Katz, 1990). The literature on party members indicates a broad consensus on their normative importance and also the advantages and disadvantages for partisan action in party competition, which are briefly reviewed below. At the same time, there is disagreement on the ways in which parties value the advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, some are of the opinion that parties increasingly perceive the costs of membership since the 1960s (Katz, 1990Katz and Mair, 1995). On the other, it has been asserted and shown in case studies that parties value members and respond to membership change (Scarrow, 1994). Though the case studies are insightful, a cross-national analysis covering multiple parties over time has not been undertaken so far. It is important that such a study be carried out because it is still an open question whether parties have reacted to altering party membership or have remained unresponsive.

Tables and Figures:

Table 1.
Descriptive statistics
Table 2. Regression estimates
Table 3. Estimates for hypothesis on mechanisms

Last Paragraph:

The results presented in this study can form a twofold basis for future research. First, the quantitative analysis should be complemented with in-depth case studies in order to substantiate the findings that members barely matter. The case studies should aim to deliver evidence that parties do not use their ideology in order not to overly constrain themselves in party competition and avoid more generally the opportunity costs of appealing to members. Second, the inference that ideology hardly represents a collective incentive does not mean that parties do not care about members at all. It is possible that parties employ other collective and private incentives for maintaining their membership base. Scarrow (1994) delivers case study evidence that the German Christian-Conservative Party (CDU) and the British Labour Party relied on a battery of instruments. These insightful case studies should form the basis for longitudinal and cross-national research yielding more comprehensive insights. The pursuit of research on party members along these two lines would give a more complete picture of the normatively and empirically important relation between parties and their members.


Last updated Febuary 2015