Has the age of party democracy passed? Parties throughout advanced democracies face challenges of voter distrust, declining associational ties, and the rise of far-right and populist movements. Parties are well-financed and critical to governance, but membership is declining; voters claim that parties are captured by special interests, but hyper-partisanship is also on the rise. Even though parties have declined in popularity, they nonetheless remain the central organizing feature of democratic politics. To paraphrase Schattschneider, democracy remains unthinkable save for parties.
This conference examines different attributes of party systems in the advanced democracies of Europe and the United States, drawing historical and comparative lessons where possible. It takes stock of recent trends in party organization, including in campaign finance, mobilization of voters, and digital technology, to critically evaluate conventional theories and concepts about parties. The conference also considers policy implications and the potential for party renewal. Are there ways to strengthen intermediary organizations, or to encourage new linkages between parties and citizens? How can parties respond to transnational problems (migration, globalization)? Finally, how will ongoing challenges to parties affect prospects for democracy?