Local Parties in Political and Organizational Perspective

By Martin Saiz; Hans Geser | Go to book overview
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communal integration because they cannot find access to the more exclusive informal circles. Whenever national parties are eager to gain an extensive foothold on the community level, the growth of local party networks may well gain its own momentum independent of any developments on the individual level. This is vividly illustrated by Denmark, where communal party groupings continued to proliferate during the 1970s and 1980s, while the number of adherents (and available candidates) was sharply shrinking (Chapter 10).

However, several studies in this book agree on the point that local parties are not very active in channeling individual political demands and grievances into the communal political system, because most inhabitants prefer to contact other role incumbents or persons outside the formal political system. This fact applies, at least, to Denmark (Chapter 10), Germany (Chapter 5), and Italy (Chapter 8). In addition, their role in supporting supralocal election campaigns is at the least questionable, because in most cases, they rely on minimal volunteer activity and are quite reluctant to adapt their activities optimally to their surrounding conditions. Thus, it may be doubted whether local parties are absolutely irreplaceable components of national party organizations or are beneficial to community politics. But the fact that they are functioning reasonably well within both frameworks may nevertheless guarantee their long-term survival and contribute to their endogenous revival in the post-Socialist world.

In Switzerland, for example, it has been found that local party membership has remained quite stable in a period where considerable "dealignments" have taken place in the general electorate (see Geser 1991a).
On the methodological level, this implies that no realistic assessment of local party activity is possible on the basis of formal processes (e.g., frequencies of official meetings) alone, because much less visible (and highly irregular) kinds of informal social communications and interactions have to be included in the analysis.
According to Prewitt, about 40 percent of all citizens are represented in community politics. Although those with more income and education are still over- represented, this is quite a large segment compared with the highly elitist recruitment practices on the state and national level. This rather "plebiscitarian" character of community politics may be reinforced by the fact that most higher- class citizens show little interest because they focus their political interest on supralocal levels ( Prewitt 1970, 33ff.).
See also Nassmacher and Rudzio ( 1978), 138ff.
This is surely the case in Switzerland , where formal political federalism is combined with many subcultural territorial divisions on the basis of language, religion, divergent historical traditions, and so forth (see Ladner, Chapter 9).


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Local Parties in Political and Organizational Perspective


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