Candidate selection is about the decisions political parties make regarding who to put forward as candidates under their label for general elections. Beyond being the function that differentiates parties from other political groupings (especially considering the decline in parties’ performance of their other traditional functions), candidate selection is crucial for understanding power relations within parties, the composition of parliaments, and the behavior of elected officials. It also has an impact on the quality of democracy, especially with regard to the values of participation, competition, responsiveness, and representation. Candidate selection methods vary according to certain parameters. The two most important ones are the level of inclusiveness of the selectorate(s) (the body or bodies that choose the candidates) and their relative level of centralization. Beyond the few cases in which state laws define the process, the nature of candidate selection methods is influenced by various country-level factors, such as the electoral system and national political culture, as well as by party-level characteristics, such as party ideology. Reform of candidate selection methods occurs as a result of general developments, such as party change or personalization, party system developments, such as electoral defeat, and intraparty struggles. Although candidate selection is no longer “the secret garden of politics,” research still faces various obstacles. Consequently, the level of scholarly development is less advanced than the parallel study of electoral systems and their political consequences.
Gideon Rahat and William P. Cross
Susan E. Scarrow
Party membership has long been an important channel for political participation in many countries. Strong membership organizations have helped parties win elections and stay connected with voters between elections, and membership opportunities have helped to mobilize some citizens who might otherwise have stayed out of politics. Yet in the last quarter-century, long-established political parties in parliamentary democracies have, with a few notable exceptions, experienced sharp enrollment declines, while newer parties have developed modest memberships at best. This has led many observers to question the continued viability of membership-based political parties. However, that is not the whole story. While some signs point to the obsolescence of party membership, there are other indications that parties are trying to reinvent the form, whether as a passport to individual political empowerment or as a pathway to digital citizenship. Most strikingly, many parties are experimenting with new procedures that give members a direct say in important party decisions. In this sense, the paradoxical story of party membership in the early 21st century is one of numerical decline accompanied by a possible increase in political relevance.
Thomas Poguntke, Susan E. Scarrow, and Paul D. Webb
How political parties organize directly affects who is represented and which policies are prioritized. Political parties structure political choice, which is one of the main functions generally ascribed to them. Their roles as gatekeepers for policies and political careers are closely linked to their nature as membership-based organizations, and to the extent to which they empower members to influence these crucial choices directly or indirectly. Parties also play a crucial role as campaign organizations, whose organizational strength influences their electoral success. The literature often summarizes differences in how parties organize and campaign by identifying major party types, which can be regarded as “classic models” of party organization. Yet, actual parties must adapt to changing environments or risk being supplanted by newer parties or by other political actors. For instance, in recent years one popular adaptation has involved parties opening their decision-making processes by introducing party-wide ballots to settle important questions. Changes like these alter how parties act as intermediaries in representation and political participation. Thanks to the increasing availability of comparable data on party organizations in established and new democracies, and in parliamentary and presidential systems, today’s scholars are better equipped to study the origins and impacts of parties’ organizational differences.