The creation of the Alliance in the early 1990s was supposed to herald the resurgence of the mass membership party-type. However, the figures that the party claimed as membership were a mere fraction of what the traditional parties once claimed, and these numbers quickly melted away leaving today’s Alliance and the Progressive parties with only a handful of members and activists. [Read more below]
25,000 members claimed
According to Alliance president, Matt McCarten, the party membership in 1993 was 14,000, and a year later this was said to have increased to 22,000 (McLoughlin, 1994c: p.64). Then, in 1995, when the Alliance submitted its application to register as a political party with the Electoral Commission, it claimed to have 25,000 members.
There is, however, reason to doubt the validity of these original figures. Certainly the constituent parties in the Alliance never had memberships that corresponded to anything like the amount that the Alliance claimed. For example, the Green Party was believed to have about 500 members in 1992. The smallest party in the Alliance, the Liberal Party, before they dissolved in 1997, allegedly had only 37 members. Nonetheless, these total figures subsequently declined as Alliance public support dropped.
In October 1998, a leaked Alliance document indicated membership was (at that stage of the year) a mere 6800. Party sources say that by the end of 1998 the numbers had increased to about 10,000, and in late 1999 McCarten claimed the party had 15,600 members (Bain, 1999d: p.8). In 2000, Alliance sources put the party membership at about 6000, and in 2001, this had declined to only about 5000 members.
In 2002 – when the party split – the membership declined to around 4,000, much of which departed with the Progressive party, the Democratic Party, and Mana Motuhake, leaving the Alliance with about half that figure.
When Jim Anderton broke away from the Alliance to set up the Progressives he was able to immediately sign up ‘1177 members in a week, 80 per cent of them former Alliance members’ (NZPA, 2002b). About 25 percent of these members also belonged to the Democratic Party, which was briefly aligned to the Progressives (Young, 2002e). After the election the Progressives claimed a membership of 2,200 (ibid). Anderton claimed that the PCP’s membership made it one of the three biggest parties (Tunnah, 2002).
This history of the Alliance’s membership numbers in this blog post is informed by the estimations and statements made on the topic by commentators, politicians and the parties – of which there are 14 recorded figures. These estimations and declarations – which are of varying reliability – can also be seen on a timescale scatter-plot in Figure 6.9. The trend line suggests firm downward decline of membership numbers.
[This blog post is to be updated – any feedback or further information is very welcome]