published in Contemporary Italian Politics
For many years after World War Two, the mass party model dominated Italian politics. High rates of membership and activism were considered to be essential for optimising electoral performance, for optimising organisational resources, and for the legitimacy of the party itself.
However, since the 1970s, and in particular since 1989, party-membership linkages have begun to weaken. Taking its point of departure from the recent literature, this article offers a theoretical framework for the examination of three different meanings of membership, associated with changing models of party organisation. Data from national election surveys, and from qualitative research on party activists, support the proposed theoretical framework. The article focuses on three Italian parties – the Democratic Party, the Northern League and the Five-star Movement – discussing the similarities and differences, with implications for cross-national comparative studies.