We study the role of political parties in contemporary democracies. The main research question is whether parties have primarily changed or declined as organizations and whether parties' contributions to democracy are stable or in decline. Our focus is th e behaviour and inter-relationship of party members, candidates and leadership, both with regard to policy-making, recruitment to public office, and election campaigns. Thereby, we supplement earlier studies of political parties in civil society, which ha ve largely focused on formal structures. Previous research has concluded that parties´ membership figures and organizational strength have declined, but less is known about how members, activist and leaders behave within the organizational frameworks. Fur thermore, a largely overlooked aspect of parties' position in government will be explored through a study of party patronage as organizational resource, that is the use of partisan appointments in public and semi-public life.
Empirically, the project co nsists of three sub-studies of Norwegian politics, which are aimed at cross-national analyses of relationships between different party levels: 1) A study of party members and congress delegates, 2) A study of candidates for general elections and 3) A stud y of party patronage in public and semi-public life. In all three sub-studies, the issue of what explains variations over time, between countries and between parties is central.
We aim at bridging the gap between studies of party organizations, election and campaign studies and studies of parties in government. The project participants are all involved in well-established and high-profiled international networks, which form the comparative bases for the national studies. The entire project is designed as a contribution to comparative research, in a European and a wider context. It is therefore not only of relevance to advanced democracies but also of interest to institution-builders in new democracies.