ECPR Standing Group in Political Parties

Current Major Projects

The following list contains links to information on current research project networks involving members of the Standing Group. If any members wish to update that information, or to provide information on additional networks, they are invited to complete  this form and send it to the group’s Webmaster ( with a copy to the Convenor.

The  Challenges of Intra-Party Democracy

Intra-party democracy (IPD) is both a hot topic and one that has been with us as long as has the study of political parties. IPD has been a central concern in the evolution of parties and its presence, or absence, is a key element in the specification of all of the major party models, as it encapsulates the relationships between parties and civil society and the decisions parties make regarding the distribution of internal power and influence.  IPD is especially topical as it is increasingly advanced as a normative good by many who are involved in the democracy promotion business and by many political parties arguing that their internal practices make them ‘more democratic’ than their opponents.  An increasing number of states are prescribing that parties adopt practices that they perceive as more democratic.   Both academic and popular observers of party activity tend towards automatic criticism of anything perceived as oligarchic or elite dominated within parties and to champion reforms viewed as increasing opportunities for rank-and-file influence in party decision making.  These positions are often taken without careful reflection of the issues at stake and the costs and benefits of particular practices adopted (or not) by the parties.

Notwithstanding the general propensity towards support for greater IPD, a review of party and state practices reveals significant diversity in terms of parties’ approaches to IPD.  While the vast majority would claim to be internally democratic, their differing practices suggest they take divergent views regarding the appropriate contours of IPD.   Like democracy itself, IPD is essentially contestable.  Is it primarily about participation, inclusiveness, decentralisation, accountability or something else altogether?  Should the emphasis be on process or outcomes? Should consideration be limited to increasing democratic opportunity within parties or should the focus be on the role of parties in enhancing system-wide democratic practice?  There is no one correct answer to these questions and parties routinely answer them in different ways.

This project brings together a group of party scholars to address these questions that are central to an understanding of the nature of contemporary democracy and the place of political parties within it.  Many of the subjects covered here are dealt with in individual monographs (many written by the participants in the project).  The group’s objective is to produce a comprehensive analysis of IPD that brings together the various aspects of party organisation and behavior, and state regulation, in a single examination of how they influence the nature of democratic practice within and outside of political parties.  The team members have met twice for stand-alone workshops and a volume is forthcoming in the Comparative Politics Series with Oxford University Press.

Project Members
William Cross, Carleton University
Richard S. Katz,  Johns Hopkins University

Ingrid van Biezen, Leiden University
R. Kenneth Carty, University of British Columbia
Sarah Childs, University of  Bristol
Anika Gauja, University of Sydney
Maciej Hartlinski, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn Poland
Keiichi KUBO, Waseda University
Gideon Rahat, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Susan Scarrow, Universityof Houston
Lisa Young, University of Calgary

For additional information on this project please contact Bill Cross, Carleton University, Ottawa, or Dick Katz, Johns Hopkins University,

Primaries In Comparative Perspective

The research network on primary elections in comparative perspective focuses its activities on the analysis of the impact of primaries on political parties, both in terms of internal party functioning and of inter-party competition. The main aim of this network is to clarify the challenges raised by this instrument of intra-party democracy and their consequences on the functioning of political parties. We are interested in developing the empirical and theoretical exploration of the consequences of the adoption of party primaries outside the US. Starting from the American experience, we develop the analytical frameworks elaborated for studying the US case to be applied to other cases, such as for instance Canada, Iceland, Israel, Western and Eastern European countries and Taiwan.

We develop our analyses of primaries mainly in comparative perspective. The scope of our individual and collective research efforts are focused on two levels of analysis, i.e. on the internal level of party organization and on the external level of inter-party competition. We are interested in establishing whether primaries can strengthen the link between party elites and members, or, instead, they produce a deterioration in the degree of loyalty and sense of belonging to the party organization. The second aspect concerns the distribution of power within the organizational structures of the party and party cohesion. The third concerns the evolution of leadership-party relations, assessing whether there are changes in the role played by leaders and in the features of their legitimacy towards party voters and supporters.

Looking at the external aspects of the consequences produced by primaries, we study inter-party competition and the reactions of the competitors in the electoral arena. We also analyze the electoral gain in promoting primaries. Our research axes also look at whether primaries with their promises of internal democracy and their transparent and inclusive procedures can compensate for the lack of legitimacy perceived by the electorate and described by recent literature on party decline and disengagement.

The research network on primaries in comparative perspective held an inaugural workshop at the ECPR Joint Sessions in April 2012 ( and is planning to reconvene within the framework of international conferences in both political science and sociology.

Project Members

Javier Astudillo, Universitat Pompeu Fabra,
Nicholas Aylott, Södertörn University,
Oscar Barbera, Universitat de València,
Sebastian Bukov, Dusseldorf University,
Caroline Close, Université Libre de Bruxelles,
William Cross, Carleton University,
Marino De Luca, Calabria Univesity,
Anika Gauja, University of Sydney,
Sergiu Gherghina, GESIS, Cologne,
Reuven Y. Hazan, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Indridi H. Indridason, University of California, Riverside,
Ofer Kenig, The Israel Democracy Institute,
Ruud Koole, Leiden University,
Gunnar H. Kristinsson, University of Iceland,
Evangelos Kyzirakos, University of Essex,
Gideon Rahat, Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
Giulia Sandri, University of Oxford,
Antonella Seddone, University of Cagliari,
Peter Spác, Masaryk University,
David Stewart, University of Calgary,
Juan R. Teruel, Universitat de València,
Fulvio Venturino, University of Cagliari,
Giulia Vicentini, University of Siena,
Alan Ware, University of Oxford,
Bram Wauters, Gand University,
Lisa Young, University of Calgary,

For information on activities/publications, or to be a network member, contact Giulia Sandri, University of Oxford,

Members and Activists of Political Parties (MAPP)

The empirical study of Party Members and Activists of Political Parties (MAPP) has become a research field of growing importance. Surveys of party members have a long tradition in some countries but are virtually unknown in others. A broad range of methodological approaches is being employed to study individual parties and groups of parties defined by specific contexts such as national political systems or ideological orientation. Cross-national and cross-temporal analyses of party members and activists have been rare in the past but are becoming more common. With an increasing amount of empirical studies being conducted, there is a need to coordinate ongoing research.

The MAPP project brings together researchers from around the world engaged in the empirical study of party members and activists. Understanding the motivations and actions of people involved in political parties remains one of the key challenges of political sociology. Who joins political parties and why, who becomes an activist, what do members and activists think, what do they do, what determines whether they stay in the party or leave? What do these analyses tell us about the social and political role of political parties? Is their importance declining or are we witnessing a change in their shape and function? In an era of increasingly fluid party politics, the role of party members and activists in defining agendas and political strategies may actually increase. Which theoretical perspectives are most useful in explaining the behaviour of members and activists? These are just some of the many questions that empirical studies of party members and activists may help to answer.

The MAPP’s objective is to produce a comprehensive and comparative analysis of party membership and activism in contemporary democracies. Its website is designed to be a tool for political scientists interested in data and publications on party membership research. The working group has met several times for stand-alone workshops or conference panels and is working on joint publications and research project.

Project Members

List of members available on the MAPP website (

For further information, please contact Emilie van Haute (

 Re-conceptualizing party democracy

This research project seeks to cast empirical and theoretical light on the state of political parties and modern party democracy. It investigates the changing conceptions of parties and democracy through a focus on party law, i.e. the nature and intensity of the legal regulation of parties in post-warEurope. The tendency for modern European democracies to make party structures and activities subject to increasingly intensive regulation by law implies that party organization and behaviour are becoming more and more closely managed by the state. The increased relevance of party law and the corresponding privileged legal status of parties not only implies an explicit acknowledgement of their institutional importance for democracy, it also effectively accord them a (quasi-) official status as part of the democratic state. The nature and intensity of party regulation is an important source for investigations into the quality of the linkages between parties and the state, which have appear to have become progressively stronger in the face of a deterioration of their linkages with society and a weakening of their representative capacity. This research focuses on the question whether this implies that parties have been transformed from agents of society to agents of the state and whether today’s dominant conception of party democracy is one that is based on a notion of parties as public utilities rather than private and voluntary associations. The project also seeks to explore the motivations for the formal legal recognition of political parties and analyze the different modalities of party regulation in light of the various normative understandings of party democracy. Re-conceptualizing Party Democracy is a five year research project (2008-13) funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

The project thus aims to fill a noticeable gap in the literature on the relationship between political parties and the state by providing necessary comparative empirical evidence of the process by which political parties have become regulated by public law in European liberal democracies, the different modalities of party regulation and its development over time. It does so by engaging in a systematic longitudinal and cross-national analysis of party regulation in post-war European democracies and by exploring the motivations for their formal legal recognition. For that purpose, we are creating a comprehensive and searchable database of party regulation, which bring together all references to political parties in the most important sources of party law in post-war European democracies (including constitutions, party laws and party finance laws). The online database is freely accessible ( and is searchable by country, year, type of law, key words and categories. The project website furthermore hosts a working paper series, news about upcoming events, and other useful information related to the regulation of political parties.

Project Members

Ingrid van Biezen
Fernando Casal Bértoa
Daniela Piccio
Ekaterina Rashkova
(All at LeidenUniversity)

For more information about this project, see: or contact the project director Ingrid van Biezen, Leiden University,

What do Parliaments actually do? Parliamentary agenda powers between legitimacy, effectiveness, and efficiency

Much has been said and written about the decline of parliaments, a process assumed to be recently amplified by the increased acceleration of politics, social fragmentation, and internationalization.  According to more nuanced accounts, we are facing a neo-parliamentarian period or even a transition towards post-parliamentarian democracy. However, very little is known about the ability of parliaments to adapt to their changing environments, not least because the empirical literature is far more concerned with internal factors such as parliamentary agenda control and their impact of parliamentary output rather than their origins. Similarly, the normative literature barely pays attention to internal factors. This project aims to combine the strengths of both approaches through a focus on parliamentary agenda powers, being defined as the distribution of parliamentary time and organizational resources to make use of this time.

Three different rationales may underlie parliamentary change: the aim to increase either parliamentary legitimacy, effectiveness, or efficiency. Since access to the parliamentary agenda is generally disputed and reforms are hard to bring about, debates about parliamentary agenda powers are particularly suitable to serve as indicators of parliamentary change both over time and in different countries. Consequently, this project asks what parliaments actually do, that is to say, how they spend their time. The major questions addressed by this project are:

  • Which rationales underlie reforms of parliamentary agenda powers? Do these rationales differ, both over time and between different countries?
  • Does a stress on different rationales imply different distributions of parliamentary time and resources?
  • Does the aim to increase parliamentary legitimacy recently grow in importance as implied by the post-parliamentarian view? Or do parliaments nonetheless retain their effectiveness as implied by the notion of neo-parliamentarism?

The major aim of the project is to identify the rationales and causal mechanisms underlying the distribution of parliamentary agenda powers in four established democracies (Germany, Britain, France, and Sweden). Attempts to reform parliamentary agenda powers will be analyzed over a time period roughly starting with the intensification of political competition in the 1870s. This early starting point is chosen because the initial intensification of political competition is assumed to bring about crucial decisions potentially subject to path-dependent developments. Only a long-term comparison enables us to assess whether parliaments change, and in which direction. The limited number of actors directly involved in reforms of the parliamentary agenda renders a qualitative long-term comparison feasible.

Project Members

Michael Koß, University of Potsdam,

The project will (hopefully) start in October 2012. A website is currently under construction. For the time being, please contact


Written by ECPR Standing Group on Political Parties

June 14, 2012 at 9:44 am