New Forms of Political Party Membership


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New Forms of Political Party Membership
Political Party Innovation Primer 5

New Forms of Political Party Membership
Political Party Innovation Primer 5

© 2020 International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
International IDEA publications are independent of specific national or political interests. Views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the views of International IDEA, its Board or its Council members.
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ISBN: 978-91-7671-315-0 (PDF)
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Contents
1. Introduction ............................................................................................................ 5 2. What is the issue? .................................................................................................. 7 3. Perspectives on new forms of party membership .............................................. 9 4. How do new forms of party membership work? ................................................ 12
4.1. Redefining membership ................................................................................. 12 4.2. Digitalizing membership ................................................................................ 15 4.3. (Re)engaging membership .............................................................................. 18 5. Issues to consider before renewing or updating party membership models . 21 6. Conclusions .......................................................................................................... 23 References ................................................................................................................ 25 About this series ...................................................................................................... 29 Acknowledgements .................................................................................................. 30 About International IDEA ......................................................................................... 31

1. Introduction
1. Introduction
For decades, political parties aimed to create large memberships to sustain and advance the objectives of their political platforms. This way parties became the main vehicle for political activism and the gatekeepers for political representation. A large, committed membership was a crucial requisite for a viable political party and a viable, healthy democracy (Duverger 1951; Sartori 1976). As the Global State of Democracy index demonstrates, free political parties capable of representing society accurately are closely related to the quality of democracy (International IDEA 2019a).
Membership was based on active participation in the activities of the party and in some cases on paying a fee to finance the party, with some exceptions such as parties in some post-communist democracies or many countries in Asia. Today, many parties still boast large traditional memberships: the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) in India, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) in Turkey and the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party) in Brazil are good examples. Yet a trend of decreasing numbers is observed globally (Casal Bértoa 2017; van Biezen and Poguntke 2012; Gauja and van Haute 2015; Klaukka, Van der Staak and Valladares 2017). Decreasing membership is explained by a wide array of reasons. What citizens demand from parties and what parties offer to citizens have dramatically changed in many respects. Citizens request new forms of engagement that are more in line with societal changes (van Biezen and Poguntke 2014; Klaukka, Van der Staak and Valladares 2017). At the same time, parties need a different way of engaging with potential supporters, far removed from the traditional mass party model of organization and more in line with modern social interactions (van Biezen and Poguntke 2014). In addition, fees from members are in most cases not a key financial resource for parties any more, which also changes the relationship
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between members and parties for those parties that did finance their activities through fees.
However, decreasing numbers do not mean decreasing political activism or even decreasing political party engagement (Youngs 2019). Schumpeter even argued that membership not only was not necessary but even hindered parties from reaching their objectives (Schumpeter 1943). While formal membership is decreasing because of the shifts in supply and demand, new forms of political party membership are being introduced. These new forms involve new types or levels of membership that require less commitment, or do not include any payment of fees. Parties are also creating new layers of digital membership and presence for their members. The changes also entail a general redefinition of what a member of a political party is and does, including new relationships with collaterals and reduced barriers to interacting with the party outside formal membership channels.1
This Primer will analyse these new forms of political party membership and how different parties and contexts have given birth to different ways of engaging citizens in the party’s life. The Primer understands membership as ‘formal status within a party’s voluntary organization’ (Scarrow 2017). The Primer will firstly focus on a more conceptual debate, understanding the changes in society that are driving these new forms of political party membership. Afterwards, based on interviews and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s (International IDEA’s) experience of working with political parties globally, it will explore the different questions that political parties need to face when (re)considering how they would like to involve, engage and harness their supporters. It will then turn to some factors parties should consider before embarking on any transformation. The last section will summarize the Primer’s content.
Endnotes 1. Collaterals are those institutions that are closely related to a political party.
Traditionally these collaterals were trade unions or religious institutions (van Biezen and Poguntke 2012, 2014).
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2. What is the issue?
2. What is the issue?
The future of political representation is intimately linked to political parties and their capacity to accurately represent the different sections of society. As parties are influenced by the way they relate to members and the role of members in the organization, political party membership is an issue that will define the future of political representation.
Political parties are, according to Sartori (1976: 220–21), a ‘transmission belt’ in charge of connecting citizens with political power and decision-making. This transmission happens on two levels. On one level, political parties represent citizens by articulating their interests and mobilizing them. On the other level, and legitimized only by the former, they are also in charge of the procedural handling of candidate selection and of populating key democratic institutions such as parliament. The core representative function is anchored in the assumption that parties have the capacity to harness and articulate the interests of a section of the citizenry (Katz and van Biezen 2005). Often, however, parties articulate the interests of an elite, and serve as vehicles to defend their interest under democratic rules. This is the case of parties based on patronage networks (Mainwaring and Torcal 2006). In all situations the party’s legitimacy is achieved through its membership. Membership of political parties has been the main avenue for citizens to gather around political ideas and social structures to make their voice heard. At the same time, it has helped parties to fulfil their procedural function. Party members were a good enough sample of the group of society the party represented, and an adequate pool of activists, mobilizers and potentially candidates.
However, all numbers, with few exceptions, point to an irremediable decline in political party membership globally (Casal Bértoa 2017; van Biezen and Poguntke 2012; Klaukka, Van der Staak and Valladares 2017). These members, often the foundation upon which parties fulfilled their functions, are becoming more and
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more scarce. Many have argued that without members parties cannot, or will find it very difficult to, fulfil their representative and aggregative functions in an accountable way (Liddiard 2018; Whiteley 2009; van Biezen and Poguntke 2012). Democracies with declining engagement and membership in political parties will suffer from a lack of accountability and institutionalization (Liddiard 2018; Hicken 2006; Mainwaring and Torcal 2006; Mair and Kopecký 2006). Parties that do not represent society accurately will not be capable of transforming collective interests into legislation (Mainwaring and Torcal 2006). At the same time, society will lose an institutionalized channel for influencing policymaking, which will increase dissatisfaction and at the same time open up space for less representative political figures (Liddiard 2018).
Yet parties are not remaining idle. Political party membership, while decreasing in its most traditional sense, is also changing globally and adopting new forms for the ways parties relate to and involve potential sympathizers and supporters. New forms of political party membership are difficult to quantify, and they exist alongside more traditional forms. Yet both new and old parties all over the world are trying to engage supporters innovatively and using methods that are more attuned to the evolution of society in recent years.
Changing membership has not one form but many. It has taken different shapes all over the world. It is therefore paramount to shed light upon these new forms of political party membership and highlight what the fundamental considerations, precautions and key questions are that political parties engaging in the process will need to face.
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3. Perspectives on new forms of party membership
3. Perspectives on new forms of party membership
Political parties’ membership has evolved closely in tandem with the evolution of social and economic relations. The mass party was ushered in by the Fordist production line and it replicated the same idea; a strong member-based organization, with clear hierarchy, closed to the outside, with a strong identity and aiming to achieve stability and great numbers of members (Gerbaudo 2019b; Revelli 2013). This type of party, defined by Duverger (1951) as the mass party, suffered a membership decline concurrently with the extensive transformation of society and the economy during the last decades of the 20th century (Gauja 2017). Of course, the mass party was never the only type of party present in some democratic contexts. Many party systems have weak institutionalized parties without the shape of the mass party (Hicken 2006; Kitschelt 2000). These parties do boast membership, not to aggregate their interest and concerns but rather to obtain political support in exchange for goods (Kitschelt 2000).
Van Biezen and Poguntke (2014) argue that this decrease was induced by a transformation on two fronts, one external and one internal. Externally, parties have been forced to adapt to a changing social and economic reality (Gauja 2017). Economic transformations, modernization and evolution shifted the social class system, creating a more fluid and less rigid one with weaker class identification. Secularization and the rise of diverse forms of professing religion also added to a changing political identification. Citizens found it increasingly difficult to identify with a political party based on their social status or religious affiliation, with of course some exceptions. Based on the difficulty in securing strong identifications based on class, religion, etc., parties started to appeal to the electorate at large rather than specific groups of society (van Biezen and Poguntke 2014). However, not all groups in society have the same concerns and collective
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problems, which makes it nearly impossible for parties to be representative of society at large.
Internally, access to public funding and the professionalization of politics created parties that are more top-down political structures. The tendency towards professionalization rule inside political parties pre-dates public funding, as highlighted by Michels’ seminal work (1911), but was accelerated by it (Katz and Mair 1995). Public funding to political parties is available in 68.2 per cent of countries globally (International IDEA 2018); 40.9 per cent provide public funding on a regular basis, and not only for campaigns (International IDEA 2018). Parties’ access to funding and media reduced the importance of activists as volunteer campaigners to achieve victory (Norris et al. 1999). In addition, access to other sources of funding has also prompted an increase in patronage practices by parties (Mair and Kopecký 2006). Parties have relied on consultants and communication firms to run their campaigns, rendering the role of members much less important. At the same time, having access to public funding reduces the importance of fees from members in the party’s budget in the cases in which fees are collected (van Biezen 2004; Whiteley 2009). Katz and Mair (1995) even argue that these changes pushed parties to collude in seeking access to power and the maintenance of a status quo even if that meant not fully representing their electorate. In this situation, the capacity of society to influence politics dwindles, which in turns disincentivizes engagement and membership.
Types of parties in party systems
Most democracies do have a wide mix of political parties, with several types. In Greece, the cradle of democracy, parties aiming to be mass parties, such as the Greek Communist Party, professional parties, such as New Democracy, parties with innovative methods of engagement, such as MeRA25, and parties that sit in between the three types, such as Syriza, coexist at the same time. The same happens in Brazil, Italy, the Republic of Korea and South Africa. This implies that, rather than closed categories, parties should be understood as having characteristics of one or other type. The French party La Republique en Marche! (The Republic On the Move), for instance, combines characteristics of professional parties with new forms of engaging its supporters. Some parties, especially relatively new parties such as Podemos in Spain, have adopted more overarching innovations in their membership, whereas others such as the Liberal Party of Canada combine old and new forms of membership.
These two elements transformed parties from the traditional mass party, in which membership was fundamental, to different models that all sought to transcend class and other identities as the definitory element of one’s vote and that blurred the role of membership (Duverger 1951; Faucher 2015; Katz and
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New Forms of Political Party Membership