Acta Politica

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 218–240 | Cite as

Challenges of political participation and intra-party democracy: Bittersweet symphony from party membership and primary elections in Italy

Original Article


In this article, we explore the impact of intra-party democratization processes on party membership. We analyze the opinions and attitudes of enrolled members on intra-party democracy instruments and on the use of open primaries. We investigate, with original data sets on Italy, the relationship between primaries and party members. How do enrolled members perceive internal democratization and primaries? Which factors contribute to explaining grassroots members’ opinion on primaries? We use the case of the Italian Democratic Party (PD) to argue that different subsets of the party membership (divided into new-style and old-style members, on the basis of their relationship with the party and their participatory style) have different views on primaries. Quantitative analysis of survey data on party members reveals two main findings. Our first result is that members approve and positively assess the adoption of new procedures of intra-party democracy. Second, membership style matters: old-style members react to the adoption of primary elections differently than new-style members. Indeed, old-style members understand primaries as a renovated chance of participating in the party’s activities, whereas for new-style members primaries give the opportunity for a new mode of participation. Our findings contribute to the existing empirical research on intra-party democracy and party membership, and have important implications for the triangular link between parties, members and primaries.


political parties party members primary elections intra-party democracy 



A first version of this paper has been presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. We thank the participants of the panel, as well as the anonymous reviewers, for their comments and suggestions. We would like to thank the research group Candidate and Leader Selection and Tore Corona of the Italian Democratic Party for their help in the data collection. A special thank is to Fulvio Venturino.

Supplementary material

41269_2016_10_MOESM1_ESM.docx (67 kb)
online Appendix


  1. Ansolabehere, S., Hansen, J.M., Hirano, S. and Snyder, Jr. J.M. (2006) The decline of competition in U.S. primary elections, 1908–2004. In: M. McDonald and J. Samples (eds.) The Marketplace of Democracy. Electoral Competition and American Politics. Washington: Brookings Institution Press, pp. 74–101.Google Scholar
  2. Aylott, N., Ikstens, J. and Lilliefeldt, E. (2012) Ever more inclusive? Candidate selection in North European democracies. Paper presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, Antwerp, Belgium, 10–15 April.Google Scholar
  3. Bobba, G. and De Luca, M. (2016) Primary elections in the Italian public debate: Between low visibility and growing personalization. In: G. Sandri and A. Seddone (eds.) The Primary Game: Primary Elections and the Italian Democratic Party. Rome, Italy: EPOKE Publishing, pp. 51–70.Google Scholar
  4. Bordandini, P., Virgilio, A.D. and Raniolo, F. (2008) The birth of a party: The case of the Italian Partito Democratico. South European Society & Politics 13(3): 303–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark, P.B. and Wilson, J.Q. (1961) Incentive system: A theory of organization. Administrative Science Quarterly 6(2): 129–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cross, W. and Blais, A. (2011) Who selects the party leader? Party Politics 18(2): 127–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cross, W. and Katz, R. (2013) The Challenges of Intra-Party Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cross, W. and Pilet, J.-B. (eds.) (2013) The Selection of Political Party Leaders in Contemporary Parliamentary Democracies. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Dalton, R., Farrell, D. and McAllister, I. (2011) Political Parties and Democratic Linkage: How Parties Organize Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gauja, A. (2014) The construction of party membership. European Journal of Political Research 54(2): 232–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Groves, R.M. (1989) Survey Errors and Survey Costs. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hazan, R.Y. and Rahat, G. (2010) Democracy within Parties. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Heidar, K. and Saglie, J. (2003) Predestined parties? Organizational change in Norwegian political parties. Party Politics 9(2): 219–239.Google Scholar
  14. Hopkin, J. (2001) Bringing the members back in? Democratizing candidate selection in Britain and Spain. Party Politics 7(3): 343–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Katz, R. and Mair, P. (1995) Changing models of party organization and party democracy: The emergence of the cartel party. Party Politics 1(1): 5–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Panebianco, A. (1982) Modelli di Partito. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  17. Pasquino, G. and Venturino, F. (eds.) (2009) Le Primarie Comunali in Italia. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  18. Peterson, D.A. and Djupe, P.A. (2005) When primary campaigns go negative: The determinants of campaign negativity. Political Research Quarterly 58(1): 45–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pizzorno, A. (1966) Introduzione allo studio della partecipazione politica. Quaderni di sociologia 15(3–4): 235–287.Google Scholar
  20. Porcellato, N. and Rombi, S. (2014) Uno sguardo dentro la Lega Nord: caratteristiche e preferenze degli iscritti al più longevo partito italiano. Paper presented at the XXVIII SISP Conference. Perugia, Italy, 11–13 September.Google Scholar
  21. Raniolo, F. (2007) La partecipazione politica. Bologna, Italy: Il Mulino.Google Scholar
  22. Rombi, S. and Seddone, A. (2015) The political outcomes of the candidate selection method. ‘Parlamentarie’ and their consequences on Italian MPS. Paper presented at the 2015 American Political Science Association conference, San Francisco, USA, 3–6 September 2015.Google Scholar
  23. Sandri, G. and Pauwels, T. (2011) Party membership role and party cartelization in Belgium and Italy: Two faces of the same medal? Politics and Policy 38(6): 1237–1266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sandri, G., Seddone, A. and Bulli, G. (2015) Party membership in Italy. In: E. Van haute and A. Gauja (eds.) Party Membership and Activism. London: Routledge, pp. 117–133.Google Scholar
  25. Sandri, G., Seddone, A. and Venturino, F. (eds.) (2015) Party Primaries in Comparative Perspective. Farnham, UK: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  26. Sandri, G. and Venturino, F. (2016) Primaries at the municipal level: How, how many and why. Contemporary Italian Politics, Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  27. Scarrow, S. (2005) Political Parties and Democracy in Theoretical and Practical Perspectives: Implementing Intra-Party Democracy. Washington: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.Google Scholar
  28. Scarrow, S. (2014) Beyond Party Members: Changing Approaches to Partisan Mobilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Scarrow, S., Webb, P. and Farrell, D. (2000) From social integration to electoral contestation: The changing distribution of power within political parties. In: R.J. Dalton and M. Wattenberg (eds.) Parties without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 129–151.Google Scholar
  30. Seddone, A. and Valbruzzi, M. (eds.) (2012) Primarie per il sindaco: partiti, candidati ed elettori. Milano, Italy: Egea.Google Scholar
  31. Seddone, A. and Valbruzzi, M. (eds.) (2013) Le primarie da vicino. analisi e bilanci sulle primarie comunali in italia. Novi Ligure: Edizioni Epoké.Google Scholar
  32. Seddone, A. and Venturino, F. (2013a) Le primarie comunali dal 2004 al 2012: un bilancio. In: A. Seddone and M. Valbruzzi (eds.) Le primarie da vicino. Novi Ligure, Italy: Epokè Edizioni, pp. 17–35.Google Scholar
  33. Seddone, A. and Venturino, F. (2013b) Bringing voters back in leader selection: The open primaries of the Italian Democratic Party. Modern Italy 18(3): 303–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Van Biezen, I., Mair, P. and Poguntke, T. (2012) Going, going, . . . gone? The decline of party membership in contemporary Europe. European Journal of Political Research 51(1): 24–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wauters, B. (2014) Democratising party leadership selection in Belgium: Motivations and decision makers. Political Studies 62(S1): 61–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wichowsky, A. and Niebler, S.E. (2010) Narrow victories and hard games: Revisiting the primary divisiveness hypothesis. American Politics Research 38(6): 1052–1071.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Young, L. (2013) Party members and intra-party democracy. In: W. Cross and R. Katz (eds.) The Challenges of Intra-Party Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 65–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luca Bernardi
    • 1
  • Giulia Sandri
    • 2
  • Antonella Seddone
    • 2
  1. 1.University of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  2. 2.European School of Political and Social Sciences, Université Catholique de LilleLilleFrance

Personalised recommendations