party organization

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The structures and procedures of political parties. Most interest has focused on party organization in competitive liberal democracies, which is initially focused on mobilizing electoral support.

Party organization in Western democracies was originally characterized by two principal types. Cadre parties developed as an expression of a small elite group. In the nineteenth century these were generally parties made up of social notables and their individual supporters. They were also commonly parliamentary in their origins. As social leaders who once assumed political power they simply now organized to garner the vote of expanding electorates. Such cadre parties were generally loosely organized, had low memberships, and were not ideologically programmatic. Most conservative and right of centre parties evolved in this manner. In contrast, mass parties grew out of the development of late nineteenth‐century working‐class protest and the political ambitions of trade unions, friendly societies, and cooperative movements. They were by definition extra‐parliamentary parties, deriving from social groups and their quest for political power. They evolved more formal organization, full‐time officials, a mass membership, and a systematic political programme that was accountable to the membership. Such parties tended to be social democratic or democratic socialist and were much more subject to internal party democracy.

The development of a broadened franchise, nevertheless, imposed similar pressures on cadre and mass parties to develop professional organization and a large membership whilst being pragmatic to the needs of winning elections. Otto Kirchheimer's catch‐all model of party organization suggests that whilst historical origins have continued to give a distinctive flavour to parties, the logic of party competition has increasingly made them conform to common characteristics. Principally these have included: de‐emphasizing the original social base so as to be able to appeal to a broader electorate; de‐emphasizing a particular ideology so as to be able to respond to electoral views on short‐term issues; strengthening central party leadership and hierarchic control to provide a clear electoral message; sacrificing internal party democracy so as to be able to present a favourable image of a united party; broadening social group links to enhance party funding opportunities; and a move from membership campaigning to leadership campaigning through the media.

Analysis by R. S. Katz and P. Mair identifies the further development of the cartel party as an ideal type towards which many established parties in Western democracies are moving. This confirms the common development of catch‐all characteristics but adds that established parties take extra steps to preserve their position in volatile electoral market‐places. This focuses on state funding of parties, a measure that enhances party autonomy from particular social group funding and the specific demands that might follow. Party leaderships thus become freer to tailor messages to the broader electoral middle ground. Equally, however, in that funding is provided in relation to existing representation it gives established parties a major resource advantage over newcomers.

In the modern era many parties in Western states are facing a range of fresh challenges to established patterns of party organization. Political parties face a crisis of both membership and activist decline, necessitating fresh approaches to local structures and member activities. They face severe pressures on party finance as whilst membership declines the costs of campaigning generally increase. It has become more commonplace for parties to look to the state for funding. State decentralization also demands that parties adapt their organizational structures and procedures to the demands of multi‐level politics. Finally, social change demands that parties consider procedural changes, for example to provide for greater representation of women or black and minority ethnic communities. In these contexts political parties struggle to sustain their central roles in representative democracy.


Subjects: Politics.

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