Stjórnmál og Stjórnsýsla (Dec 2010)

The greatest number of party members? Membership structures in Icelandic political parties

  • Gunnar Helgi Kristinsson

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 6, no. 2
pp. 123 – 150


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Political parties in Iceland are distinguished by higher membership density than exists in other democratic states. This raises questions concerning the nature and role of party membership and calls for an explanation of this distinguishing feature of Icelandic party politics. In addition, the number of party members has been increasing, contrary to experience from other states. In many countries the declining number of party members has given cause for alarm, but in Iceland the question may well be asked if the large number of party members is a sign of good health for the party system. In this article we seek to map and explain the development of membership of the Icelandic parties in light of theories of party organization. Membership being in effect a free good in Iceland is a precondition for the great number of members which prevails while the development of party primaries has played the main role in actualizing the membership potential provided by the nature of party membership.