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The Consequences of Membership Incentives: Do Net Benefits Attract Different Kinds of Members?

Political Parties
Representation
Political Activism
Emilie Van Haute
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Susan Achury
University of Houston
Karina Kosiara-Pedersen
University of Copenhagen
Susan Scarrow
University of Houston
Emilie Van Haute
Université Libre de Bruxelles
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Abstract

In recent years, parties in many parliamentary democracies have radically re-shaped what it means to be a party member, most importantly by giving them more direct say over party decisions. This paper explores some of the implications of these changes, asking whether the costs and benefits of membership has an effect on which supporters take the step of joining their party. In particular, it considers the impact of net membership benefits on membership demographics and on members’ ideology. The article investigates these questions looking at patterns of party membership in 10 parliamentary democracies, using opinion data from the European Social Survey and data on party rules from the Political Party Database project. Our analysis shows that potential members are more sensitive to benefits than to costs, especially in terms of the ideological incongruence of who joins. As a result, increasing benefits or net benefits seems to have the effect of reducing some of the traditional demographic disparities between members and other party supporters. This is a positive finding for party-based representation, in that it suggests that parties which adopt more inclusive decision-making processes could develop memberships which are more substantively and more descriptively representative of their supporters.