Few, if any, would deny that political parties are integral to representative democracy as we know it. And yet since the 1960s it has become increasingly commonplace to encounter references in academic literature, journalistic comment, and polemical assertion alike to the 'decline of party', a contention usually predicated on the view that parties are 'failing' in a variety of respects. We have now reviewed in some detail the contemporary state of political parties in advanced industrial democracies with respect to their standing in the electorate, their organizational development and strength, and their functional performance. It is time, therefore, to summarize as far as possible the complexity of these findings and to reflect on their implications for democracy. For the sake of comparability, this summary analysis sticks to the national cases covered by this study, and excludes the case of the European Union (EU).
Table 15.1 summarizes the evidence provided by our country experts in respect of party standing in the electorate. Recall that we stated in the Introduction to this book that we did not presume all of the indicators to be simple and unambiguous measures of partisan strength in the electorate: we recognize, for instance, that falling turnout and the erosion of partisan sentiment could be explained by temporary processes of ideological convergence between the major parties in a political system. Similarly, measures of party system fragmentation like the effective number of parties could vary for reasons unconnected with declining party legitimacy; for example, the emergence of new cleavages might generate additional parties in a system. Nevertheless, it remains possible that each of these measures could, under