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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Future Party Leaders or Burned Out? A Study of the Leading Members of the Political Parties’ Youth Organisations in Sweden

Elin Fjellman
Lunds Universitet
Malena Rosén Sundström
Lunds Universitet
Elin Fjellman
Lunds Universitet

The main aim of this paper is to shed light on career-building as a motive for party membership for leading members in the political party youth organizations, and how the motives and experiences of party politics can explain the willingness of the leading members of these organizations to become politicians in the future. It might be regarded as self-evident that the most active members also are most likely to see themselves as future politicians. But little is actually known about why and how active – and in this case, also young – party members chose different directions in party politics.

The few empiric studies that have been carried out on the topic demonstrate interesting results. In a study of the recruitment function of youth organizations of political parties in Belgium, Hooghe et al. (2004) confirms the conventional wisdom that some of the future political leaders are likely to be found in the youth organizations. Nearly half of the respondents in their study say that they either want, or would consider, becoming an elected politician or getting a leading position within their parties. This contradicts results from earlier empirical studies that have demonstrated that very few party members are motivated by career-related motives.

Party membership is commonly regarded as one of the most time- and cost intensive forms of political activism and it is obvious that the parties’ loss of members has caused increasing pressure on the remaining active members. A smaller group of members must now perform the same tasks that previously were performed by a larger group. This study intends to find out if some of the leading young members get disappointed and discouraged because they find that the party or the youth organization demand too much. If some of the most experienced and active young members, who can be assumed to desire a political future, still do not want it, it is important that the parties and the whole society understand why, in order to find out what could be improved.

This study intends to explain the differences in willingness of Swedish youth organizations’ leading members to become politicians in the future. The selected target group is the members of the national boards of the eight youth organizations, whose mother party is represented in the Swedish parliament. The empirical material consists of 25 in-depth interviews and a telephone survey.
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