Political Parties and Democracy: Decline or Change? (completed)

Which are the main challenges facing political parties in contemporary Norwegian democracy? Have parties primarily changed or declined as organizations? Are parties’ contributions to democracy stable or in decay?

About the project

In parliamentary democracies political parties are the main vehicles in the representative chain of delegation and accountability; it recruits candidates for the general election, generates the electoral programs, organizes the election campaign, structures the behaviour of the elected MPs, forms the government, and inhabits the ministerial positions in cabinet. Interest aggregation as well as articulation takes place through the political party, and the “contract” linking the elected representative to the voters is the party program (party manifesto). It is widely agreed, however, that the role and the organization of political parties have changed significantly in recent decades, especially in civil society. Previous research has concluded that parties´ membership figures and organizational strength have declined, and that the party in public office is empowered. But less is known about how members, activist and leaders behave within the organizational frameworks.This observation is the point of departure for the project “Political Parties and Democracy: Decline or Change”. It is designed to cover virtually all aspects of political parties’ activity and behaviour. In this way, we aim at bridging the gap between empirical studies of party organizations, election and campaign studies and studies of parties in government.

In sum, this leads to three major research questions which are further specified with regard to Norwegian parties below:

  1. What characterizes the parties’ membership organizations today, compared to the traditional European mass party model in terms of motivations for individual participation, level of grass root involvement and the nature of decision-making processes?
  2. What characterizes the candidate selection and electoral campaigning of contemporary political parties, compared to the ‘golden era’ of party-controlled activity, in terms of for example how the nomination process is structured, which demands that are put forward to the candidates, and the nature of their own campaigning efforts?
  3. To what extent is the allocation of jobs and other important public and semi-public positions in the gift of, or controlled by, political parties in the Norwegian political system? Has party patronage in this sense increased over time?

In all three cases, what factors explain variation over time, across countries and between individual parties are also key issues.

The project consists of three sub-studies of Norwegian politics, and the main publication from the project as a whole will be a co-authored book on parties in the Norwegian democracy. Moreover, the project forms a part of international, coordinated efforts to gather data on party membership and activity, as well as party recruitment, campaigning and career patterns. Consequently, the entire project is designed as a contribution to genuine comparative research, in a European or wider context. It is therefore not only of relevance to advanced democracies but also of interest to institution-builders in new democracies. For more information, see the project description.


The project is financed by the Research Council of Norway (FRISAM), 2008-2012.


See list of publications 

Master theses

Each semester a group of MA students is affiliated with the project. As supervisors we arrange joint seminars, and the following theses have been submitted since 2011:


Haugsgjerd, Atle Hennum (2013) Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Haugen, Oda (2012) Hva forklarer partimedlemskap i Norge? En individnivåundersøkelse av utvalgte år i perioden 1969 - 2009. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Fredriksen, Jannicke (2012) Kommunikasjon og mediehåndtering i politiske partier. En studie av partiansattes rolle i forholdet mellom media og politikk. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Michelsen, Marius W. (2012) Excelling extremists or pedestrian populists? The British National Party in contemporary European far right politics. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Hildal, Eirik Ågotnes (2012) The Ideological Development of the Norwegian Progress Party 1993-today: Towards a Radical Right Party? Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Berg, Ingvild (2011) Nettdebatt og demokrati. Styring eller anarki. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Mandt, Andrea (2011) Stemmene fra grasrota En analyse av lokale listers etablering, omfang og varighet i lokalpolitikken. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Mjelva, Sara (2011) I spenningsfeltet mellom forvaltning og politikk. En studie av departementenes kommunikasjonsenheter. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Reymert, Ingvill (2011) Høyrepopulister uten kvinneappell. Hvorfor færre kvinner enn menn stemmer på høyrepopulistiske partier i Europa. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Simonnes, Kamilla (2011) I stjålne klær? En analyse av endringer i Høyres, Arbeiderpartiets og Fremskrittspartiets innvandrings- og integreringspolitikk fra 1985 til 2009 Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Sæther, Elisabeth (2011) Høyre om? Om endringer i Høyre som følge av valgnederlaget i 2005. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Vestli, Kristoffer (2011) Representanter til besvær? En studie av hvordan individuell politisk kommunikasjon i sosiale medier berører norske partiorganisasjoner. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.

Waage, Stine Marie (2011) Mediekanalenes effekt og politisk reklame. En eksperimentstudie av politiske TV- og radioreklamer. Master thesis. Oslo: University of Oslo.


Published Sep. 15, 2010 2:16 PM - Last modified Jan. 9, 2019 4:14 PM