Suggested questions on party membership
Posted 16/6/2008 00:11 (#79)
Subject: Suggested questions on party membership


Posts: 11

I am posting this suggestion on behalf of Wijbrandt van Schuur and Gerrit Voerman, both of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Specific suggestion:
Add the following questions to the voter study:

1a. Are you a member of a political party?
1b. Which party are you a member of?
1c. Since what year are you a member of this party?

2a. If you are not a member of a political party now:
Have you ever been a member of a political party or not?
2b. If yes, of which party?
2c. In what year did you become a member of a political party (for the first time)?
2d. In what year did you end your party membership (for the last time)?

3a. If you are not a member of a political party now, and never have been a member of a political party, can you imagine that you might become a member of a political party?
3b. If yes, of which party?


This research project proposed at the occasion of the elections for the European Parliament in 2009 is set up to help in understanding the democratic process in the European Union. Political parties are important institutions in this democratic process, since parties fulfill many of the functions needed for democracy to work properly. These include political communication, recruiting and socializing political leaders, developing and implementing policies, aggregating diverse interests into programs, and legitimizing political decisions. However, across the EU party membership is steadily declining, from 15% in the late 1960s to 5% in the early 2000s.

The decline of party membership is well-documented (Scarrow 2000; Mair and van Biezen 2001), as is the decrease in party identification and increase in electoral volatility. Popular confidence in parties is generally low in Western democracies today, and citizens are experiencing a general sense of alienation from the political process. The public has increasingly turned in recent decades to various types of interest groups, ad hoc protest organizations and more individualistic modes of political action like signing petitions to make its voice heard. Grassroots members within parties have also lost power to party leaders and to party caucuses in the national assembly. No longer can political parties depend primarily on members to support their activities; state subventions now constitute a major financial resource for party organizations.

Our suggestion offers a modest attempt to describe the present situation about party membership in the different countries of the European Union: how many people are members of a political party, is party membership increasing or decreasing, and what is the potential for party membership? Combined with other questions that we expect to be part of the questionnaire -- especially demographic questions about age, gender, and regional or cultural identity – it will be possible to give a uniform description of developments of political party membership in the EU.

The questions about present and past party membership (questions 1 and 2) are taken from National Election Studies, such as the Dutch National Election Studies in different years. The question about potential party membership (question 3) is translated from the German Potsdamer party membership study (e.g., Klein, 2006).
Questions about length of party membership have been added in order to find out whether length of party membership is declining as well, as is our anecdotal observation in The Netherlands.


Klein, M. (2006). Partizipation in politischen Parteien. Eine empirische Analyse des Mobilisierungspotenzials politischer Parteien sowie die Struktur innerparteilicher Partizipation in Deutschland. Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 47, 35-61.
Mair, P. & Van Biezen, I. (2001). Party Membership in Twenty European Democracies,
1980–2000. Party Politics, 7, 5–21.
Scarrow, S. (2000). Parties without Members? Party Organization in a Changing
Electoral Environment. In R. J. Dalton & M. P. Wattenberg (eds.), Parties without
Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Original German question:
“Wie ist das bei Ihnen: Sind Sie gegenwärtig Mitglied einer Partei?
Und wenn ja, welcher?“
Gab ein Befragter an, keiner Partei anzugehören, so wurde die folgende Frage an ihn gerichtet: “Könnten Sie sich unter Umständen vorstellen, in eine Partei einzutreten?
Und wenn ja, welche wäre das bei Ihnen?“.

Groningen, June 13, 2008
Wijbrandt van Schuur Gerrit Voerman
Department of Sociology Documentation Center Dutch Political Parties
University of Groningen University of Groningen
The Netherlands The Netherlands

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Posted 16/6/2008 11:09 (#80 - in reply to #79)
Subject: RE: Suggested questions on party membership

New user

Posts: 2

Related to my previous message and to this proposal, an additional question could be framed as the nr 3 one (potential membership), but should be asked to all respondents (no filter on only those not members of a national party), asking whether respondents would consider becoming member of European party would this possibility of individual membership would become available. This would allow for interesting comparisons with the responses to the questions regarding membership to national party.
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