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Mitgliederschwund - politics is out

by DoDo Wed Jul 30th, 2008 at 03:21:51 AM EST

According to end-of-July numbers, for the first time ever, the German Social Democrats (SPD) have less party members than the Christian Democrats (CDU): 530,755 vs. 529,994. The SPD's membership melted to half of what it was at its peak in the seventies -- in West Germany only.

But, Merkel can't be happy: this only came to be because the SPD is losing members faster than the CDU (-1,744 vs. -644). The smaller parties are more stable, but only the Left Party showed some growth recently. I suspect the downwards trend is similar in most EU countries.

A sign of disconnect between the political class and common people, perhaps. Or maybe it's the new individualism, where people don't feel they have to invest more into politics than discussing issues in private and voting.

Here is the longer term trend of the membership of Germany's parties with parliamentary representation (from Bundeszentrale der Politischen Bildung):

Note how transient the Reunification bumps are. Disillusion with politics got really strong in that time and place.

Also note that the SPD-CDU comparison is a bit improper: the CDU doesn't run in Bavaria, but its permament ally the CSU does, and together they overtook the SPD already in the middle of the nineties.

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So, can you dig up similar data for the main parties in other countries? And what do you think are the reasons?

Oh the wonders of German precision: party membership numbers down to the unit! It's impossible to get anything other than approximate and probably massaged numbers for French parties.

The Parti Socialiste hit a high point with Ségolène Royal's campaign, about 280,000 members, but has since lost probably 40% (good article in French) and stands at around 170,000.

Sarkozy's UMP, having chewed up and swallowed almost all the political right, makes great claims: nearly 400,000 members, according to its site. It seems generally agreed that it has over 300,000, and is clearly the biggest French party in terms of membership.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 30th, 2008 at 04:02:52 AM EST
Graph for the Netherlands, from wikipedia:

Total membership has remained more or less constant, around 300,000. This is much lower than in the 70s and 80s, however (1978: ~450,000; 1988: ~375,000). It also has to be contrasted with a population that has continued to grow strongly (unlike that of Germany).

More data here.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jul 30th, 2008 at 04:42:45 AM EST
What's the point of being a party member ? It seems most of the point of being a party member in, say, France is access to elected officials, and possibility of becoming a candidate. It's been some time since party members had any effect on political opinions : campaigns are run nationally, from the top, with mass media being used, rather than in a decentralised fashion with party members convincing their neighbours. Programs are also conceived at the top, with little or no input from party members.

At most party members may be asked to choose the party leader or candidate for the presidential election, but without control over said party leader...

What's the point ? In France, political parties have become coalitions of local elected officials, and of a part of the Paris technocracy. Party members only count as people who applaud at meetings.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Wed Jul 30th, 2008 at 07:29:22 AM EST
Low participation in politics in general indicates that people do not see the political system as a viable avenue for collective action.

Is this merely due to the top-down functioning of the political system, or have people generally lost belief in the possibility (and desirability) of taking collective action?

My brain is a bit mushy right now. I'll point out that there is a discussion of MoveOn on TPM Cafe that ties into this topic.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jul 30th, 2008 at 11:38:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Low participation in politics in general indicates that people do not see the political system as a viable avenue for collective action.

I completely disagree. Low participation can as well be a sign, that people are so happy with the system, that they don't want to engage to change it. Or that there are more interesting things than politics, or that they want to participate only in focused actions on specific issues, instead of supporting a full package of a party, which doesn't necessarily mean they are against the political system.

One indicator for other reasons than disagreement with the political system is, that most organisations, unions, churches, and hobby clubs, are losing members, as well less and less people marry. The general willingness to bind oneself to whatever is shrinking. At the same time the love parade, or Kirchentage tend to be bigger than ever. The willingness to engage, for specific issues with limited follow up responsibility, is not at all shrinking.
Another indicator is the left party, which shows, that people who really want a fundamentally different society are political active, while e.g. comments in online-newspapers often indicate favour of not too big changes, even when they are written relativly ranting.

The modern selfunderstanding of young politicians is often a service deliverer mentality, with the people kind of costumers, not anymore the defense of a integrated political ideology. Part of it I would say, is due to the more diverse lives and live styles of people and opinions. There is more brokerage necessary between opposing views to come to a political compromise.

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers

by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Wed Jul 30th, 2008 at 04:21:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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