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Diversity among Belgian Party Members and its Consequences

Representation
Women
Party Members
Political Activism
Robin Devroe
Ghent University
Benjamin de Vet
Ghent University
Robin Devroe
Ghent University
Bram Wauters
Ghent University
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Abstract

The last decades, democracies across Europe witnessed the decline of traditional mass membership parties (Duverger, 1954) and the rise of the more elitist ‘cartel party’ (Katz & Mair, 1995). Parallel to the phenomenon of ‘partisan dealignment’ and fueled by an increase in state funding, parties become less dependent of their members, professionalize their organizational structures and centralize their power in a small party elite. Some argue that this will lead to parties attracting not only less, but also a different kind of members, which increasingly resemble the existing political class. As party members continue to play a role in parties’ internal decision-making processes, this raises questions about the representativeness of parties and their members in relation to society. In this Paper we focus on the implications of partisan dealignment on the representativeness of political parties in Belgium, using data from a large-scale survey among Flemish party members. We will focus on the representation of three specific (generally underrepresented) social groups: female, young and lower educated members. Our analysis will be threefold: first, we focus on the main socio-demographic characteristics of Flemish party members and their descriptive representativeness relative to the Flemish population. We secondly examine whether the descriptively underrepresented groups compensate their underrepresentation by participating more actively than others in party-activities and taking up party mandates. Finally, we further elaborate on the possible consequences of a lack of social diversity among party members by analyzing whether members of underrepresented social groups have different policy preferences than those of overrepresented social groups. We conclude that parties perform poorly regarding the descriptive representation of the above-mentioned social groups and - as these members do not engage more in party activities, but do have different policy preferences - this might also have consequences for the substantial representativeness of parties.