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Going, going, . . . gone? The decline of party membership in contemporary Europe


Ingrid van Biezen, Leiden University, PO Box 9500, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands. Tel.: +31 (0)71 527 3779; E-mail:


This article offers an overview of levels of party membership in European democracies at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century and looks also at changes in these levels over time, comparing party membership today with figures from both 1980 and the late 1990s. While relying primarily on the direct and individual membership figures as reported by the parties themselves, the fit of the data with survey data is explored and it is concluded that the two perform well in terms of convergent validity. The differences between large and small democracies are examined, as well as old and new democracies, and it is found that levels of party membership are related to both the size and age of the democratic polity in question. Finally, the implications of the patterns observed in the membership data are discussed, and it is suggested that membership has now reached such a low ebb that it may no longer constitute a relevant indicator of party organisational capacity.