The Development of Organizational Linkages between Political Parties and Citizens (1960-1989)

Research question/goal: 

Adopting a broadly comparative approach and covering 11 Western European countries, the project focused on how parties seek to stabilize their electorates via organizational linkages. In principle, there are two methods parties can use when attempting to create voter loyalty: They can approach voters directly via the mass media or they can try to connect to specific segments of the electorate through different types of intermediary organizations. In order to ensure their organizational survival, parties need to make sure that they respond adequately to their voters' preferences. Despite the greatly enhanced quality of survey research and new methods of political marketing, they still need intermediary actors who select and aggregate demands of specific segments of society and feed them into the decision-making process of political parties. These processes of interaction may be formalized or they may be based on informal contacts. In either case, they involve a process of exchange between organizational and party elites where certain policy commitments are traded for the promise to mobilize electoral support among organizational members or sympathizers on behalf of that particular party. In a nutshell, these intermediary organizations represent relevant organizational environments, which can be used by party elites to stabilize their electorates through organizationally mediated linkages. There are different types of relevant intermediary organizations. They include collateral organizations which are formally linked to the main party organizational structure and collateral organizations which maintain only informal connection with a specific party (or political camp). In addition, a party's own membership organization can be conceptualized as a collateral organization (from the perspective of party elites); new social movements are another kind of relevant intermediary organizational actor for political parties. Since parties are interested in predictable and stable linkages to relevant environments, formal ties are more relevant than informal connections. The increasing social differentiation of western societies has led to pluralization of social stratification and concomitant interests. This has led to an erosion of the capacity of intermediary organizations to integrate large social groups and aggregate their interest. As a result, the relevance of organizational ties between parties and such organizations has declined. They simply cannot 'deliver' the votes of their constituencies to the degree they could in the past. Simultaneously, intra-organizational resistance against exclusive ties with a specific party has tended to grow for the same reasons. To a degree, traditional parties have attempted to compensate for this loss of social anchorage by creating more collateral organizations which are part of their own party structure. Empirical analyses show that such strategies are partially successful: Parties with strong organizationally mediated linkages and strong membership organizations tend to have more stable electorates. At the same time, the share of new parties has grown continuously in western Europe. Since they tend to have very few organizational linkages, the anchorage of western European party systems in the intermediary sectors has declined across the board.

Fact sheet

1996 to 1999
Data Sources: 
election results, party membership data, coding of party sta
Geographic Space: 
Western Europe



Poguntke, Thomas (2000): Parteiorganisation im Wandel. Gesellschaftliche Verankerung und organisatorische Anpassung im europäischen Vergleich. Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag. more