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Institutionalization Through Digitalization? A Comparative Analysis of Highly Populated Online Communities on Their Route to Institutionalized Parties

Comparative Politics
Cyber Politics
Institutions
Interest Groups
Political Parties
Communication
Kristina Weissenbach
University of Duisburg-Essen
Jessica Beyer
University of Washington
Kristina Weissenbach
University of Duisburg-Essen

Abstract

In the 2000s we observed the formation, breakthrough and institutionalization of numerous new political parties in the European Member States. Many of them are referred to as “digital parties” – from the Pirate Parties that had their breakthrough in the national parliaments in many Northern European countries to left-wing parties like Podemos in Spain and France Insoumis in France or the populist Five Star Movement in Italy. Many of these “digital parties” have their roots in highly populated online communities and digital movements– which makes their formation different from established political parties. In this paper, we examine processes of formation and institutionalization of digital parties vs. ‘traditionally formed’ parties in the 28 member states of the European Union. Building on previous work, we understand party institutionalization as a process, that goes beyond electoral success and parliamentary seat distribution and includes “internal”, “external” and “objective” dimensions and ask: How do digital newcomers perform on the internal, external and/or objective dimensions in comparison to ‘traditional formed’ parties? Does a digital way of party formation and organization effect a new party’s institutionalization? What are the opportunities (deliberation, participation) and challenges (demands for regulation) of new parties' institutionalization processes that have their roots in digital movements/ highly populated online communities? We specifically hypothesize that a (digital) new party’s ‘success’ – in terms of national parliamentary survival after the following election – depends on its type of formation before entering parliament and the way of regulation during the formation and institutionalization process. Therefore we are interested in new parties that have been formed in different ways (rooted in ‘online communities’/digital movements or traditionally formed) and that represent different types of origin: parties that have been formed by individual entrepreneurs or party formations promoted by existing societal organizations or former political movements. We draw on earlier comparative studies and multiple data sources like surveys, primary party documents and data collected from party websites and twitter, as well as own interviews with experts and representatives of the new (digital) parties in Spain, Italy and Germany.