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Primary elections and party grassroots: participation, innovation and resistance

Abstract

Drawing upon both the “party democratization” and “decline in party membership” literature, this paper explores how party members perceive the introduction of primary elections as procedures for selecting candidates and/or party leaders. Using Italy as an illustration, the analysis of survey data on party members from three major parties (Partito Democratico, Lega Nord, Movimento 5 Stelle) reveals three main findings. First, members approve and positively assess the adoption of new procedures of intra-party democracy. Second, membership opinions on intra-party democracy are clearly determined by the organizational structures of the party. Granting formal powers over not only to party members, but also supporters and voters, may hide a weakening of the role of the party on the ground and that it eventually limits the organizational function of party grassroots to a “cheerleading” role. Third, new members differ significantly from long-standing members in their attitudes and behaviour.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In December 2018, the party changed name and logo by removing the traditional reference to the Northern dimension in order to reinforce the new national approach of the party (Albertazzi et al. 2019). The party is now called Lega per Salvini Premier. It is worth to noticing that the new statute of the Lega does not provide any clear and direct reference to primary elections.

  2. 2.

    For the PD’s data collection, a longer period of data collection was required because the survey was released to regional party branches at different timing.

  3. 3.

    The details on surveys design, response rates and other information on our three original surveys are described in Supplementary Materials.

  4. 4.

    The nine items used in the questionnaires for assessing the evaluation of primaries and intra-party democracy were the following: (1) primaries improved my overall evaluation of the party; (2) only enrolled members should vote in primary elections; (3) the party should always use primaries for selecting candidates for parliamentary elections; (4) the party the party should always use primaries for selecting top candidates for local elections; (5) the party should always use primaries for selecting top candidates for regional elections; (6) the party should always use primaries for selecting the PM candidate; (7) primaries enhance internal factionalism; (8) primaries promote political turnover; (9) open primaries decrease the power of enrolled members;.

  5. 5.

    Ordinal regression models including the original Likert-scale variables as dependent variable have been tested and results proved to be very close to those provided by Logit models (see Tables 3a, 4a and 5a in Appendix).

  6. 6.

    See Supplementary Materials, Tables 1a and 2a present the descriptive analyses of the variables included in this study.

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Correspondence to Giulia Sandri.

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Seddone, A., Sandri, G. Primary elections and party grassroots: participation, innovation and resistance. Eur Polit Sci 20, 483–501 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-020-00268-9

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Keywords

  • Intra-party democracy
  • Membership surveys
  • Party membership
  • Political parties’ organization
  • Primary elections