Since the early 2010s, there have been numerous articles about declining membership in political parties across the political spectrum. The data suggests that political parties are losing members because more individuals are putting their time and energy into other social movements. People are keen to engage politically and socially, but in a way that’s different from membership in traditional political organisations. The question is: what does this mean for political parties today? Should parties try to revert to the old days, when membership was the core engine of the party machine? Or, should political parties focus on engaging with citizens in a new way?
The benefits of large memberships
Membership has always been a source of power for political parties. Firstly, membership fees were a key source of funding for parties, allowing them to execute their campaigns and cover basic operational costs. Secondly, stadiums full of members supporting the party’s leadership provided an excellent image that could be used to encourage the public to support a party’s political cause. Supportive and and large memberships also gave a feeling of purpose to those in the party’s ranks. Finally, large memberships meant legitimacy for political parties.