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Intra-party democracy from members’ viewpoint: the case of left-wing parties in Portugal

Abstract

Focusing on the Portuguese case, this article aims to examine how members evaluate items of intra-party democracy and the ways in which their evaluations vary significantly across parties and key individual-level factors. It uses data from online surveys conducted in 2014 to grassroots members of three left-wing parties that differ in their organisational and participative profiles: the centre-left Socialist Party and the radical left Left Bloc and Livre. The results reveal more positive evaluations among members of radical left parties and for those featuring higher levels of activism and ideological congruence with the party. However, appraisals tend to be more negative when there are higher expectations of influencing the candidate selection process and of gaining professional benefits through membership. The findings suggest that democratising reforms may be a double-edged sword by attracting members who value this kind of change but at the same time fostering critical appraisals.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Portugal, open party primaries always require enrolment in a specific party file before acquiring voting rights.

  2. 2.

    An important strand of literature addresses the effects of IPD on the performance of political parties. Internal democracy seems to have negative effects on internal cohesion (Teorell 1999), or the probability of entering coalition governments (Bäck 2008). Moreover, it seems that IPD may also foster internal conflicts and factionalism (Giannetti and Benoit 2008).

  3. 3.

    There are also interesting studies that use survey data on party members in order to investigate the meaning of IPD—deliberative, participatory, etc.—according to members’ perceptions (Young and Cross 2002; Saglie and Heidar 2004; Hansen and Saglie 2005).

  4. 4.

    The PS also conducted open primaries in 2014 to select the candidate for prime minister, but this was a temporary mobilisation that did not affect the more centralised and hierarchical structure of the party.

  5. 5.

    See more details at http://www.projectmapp.eu/.

  6. 6.

    The Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português) did not participate in the survey despite the contacts made.

  7. 7.

    The universe of socialist members was 83524, whereas that of BE members was approximately 6000 and 1000 for Livre. The number of total answers was 1581 for the PS, 767 for the BE and 150 for Livre. Overall, the response rate varies from 16 to 25%. Estimates based on the registered due-paying members with updated contact information.

  8. 8.

    Disagreement expresses more positive evaluations.

  9. 9.

    Cronbach’s Alphas are acceptable: BE = 0.7, Livre = 0.7, PS = 0.7. The component analysis gives a two-dimensional solution with only two out of the eight items being clustered together; this might result more from the imbalance of the sample as theoretically we do see the eight items as one-dimensional measures of IPD.

  10. 10.

    Members were asked to position themselves and their party on a left–right scale ranging from 1 (left) to 10 (right). After subtracting the members’ position in these two questions, we rescaled the result into a 0 (congruent) to 9 (incongruent) scale.

  11. 11.

    The nine surveyed political activities are as follows: (1) helping organise local meetings of the party, (2) helping organise party gatherings, (3) helping organise meetings between the party and the community, (4) donation of money (besides membership fees), (5) meeting other party members to discuss politics, (6) meeting other party members for activities other than politics, (7) meeting people from outside the party to discuss politics, (8) distributing propaganda material during campaigns and (9) conducting other activities outside the campaign period. Cronbach’s Alphas are good: BE = 0.9, Livre = 0.9 and PS = 0.9.

  12. 12.

    The full wording of the question is: ‘Thinking about the motivations that led you to join the party, to what extent were each of the following reasons important in your decision’. Members used a five-point scale with 1 being not at all important and 5 very important.

  13. 13.

    For the BE and the PS, we consider whether the members have held posts in national bodies, regional or local branches, at present or in the last two years. For Livre, we consider whether the members have held posts in national bodies, territorial local branches, thematic circles or other.

  14. 14.

    Seniority was not surveyed in Livre due to the party’s short lifespan.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) within the projects ‘UID/CPO/04627/2013’ and ‘PTDC/IVCCPO/1864/2014’.

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Correspondence to Edalina Rodrigues Sanches.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Party members’ satisfaction with their influence within the party (%)

  Not at all Not very satisfied Satisfied Very satisfied (N)
BE 11 43 41 5 (585)
Livre 4 26 52 18 (126)
PS 17 51 29 3 (1273)
All 14 47 34 5 (1984)
  1. (1) Do not know/No answer excluded from the analysis; (2) The index of satisfaction with intra-party party functioning ranges between 1 (not satisfied) and 4 (very satisfied). (3) η = 0.387; F(2) = 175.595, p < 0.001. (4) Question: ‘Overall, do you feel satisfied with your influence within the party?’

Appendix 2: Descriptive statistics on dependent, independent and control variables

  BE LIVRE PS
Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Dependent variables
 Satisfaction with IPD 2.8 0.4 3.2 0.4 2.4 0.5
Independent variables and controls
 Age 44.1 13.9 38.9 10.5 48.2 13.9
 Education 3.9 1.0 4.2 0.7 3.8 0.9
 Sex 1.3 0.5 1.2 0.4 1.2 0.4
 Posts within party 0.5 0.8 1.1 0.9 1.0 1.5
 Seniority 6.6 5.1    14.4 12.6
 Activism 2.7 1.0 2.2 1.0 2.8 1.0
 Ideological (in)congruence 1.0 1.0 0.6 0.8 1.6 1.6
 To help fulfil the ideals that I defend 4.5 0.7 4.6 0.7 4.5 0.8
 To influence the candidate selection process 2.9 1.3 3.8 1.2 3.2 1.2
 To gain professional benefits 1.2 0.5 1.2 0.4 1.5 0.8
  1. Note: Seniority data is non-available for Livre

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Sanches, E.R., Lisi, M., Razzuoli, I. et al. Intra-party democracy from members’ viewpoint: the case of left-wing parties in Portugal. Acta Polit 53, 391–408 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-017-0057-x

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Keywords

  • Intra-party democracy
  • Left-wing parties, party members
  • Portugal