Case Study: Podemos, Spain

Podemos ("We Can") is a Spanish progressive party formed in 2014 in the wake of the anti-austerity 15-M Movement, which sought to bring about more direct democracy and alternatives to the austerity politics of the early 2010s. Since establishing a party, Podemos has worked to maintain the identity of a movement, with an emphasis on activism and social engagement, by pioneering new forms of party affiliation and membership.


Party membership has been in steady decline throughout Europe in recent decades, and in Spain, support for mainstream politics had been significantly eroded. At the same time, new parties across Europe and Spain were trying to determine how to use technology to their advantage. Finding a new approach was especially important for Podemos, who wanted to maintain the momentum and activism that defined the 15-M Movement, rather than falling back on the traditional party structures they had themselves criticized. 


Podemos innovated forms of party membership by creating  two different ways to join. The first, "inscritos/inscritas," are users who simply register on the party website, with no fee or concrete commitments aside from pledging to support Podemos and to adhere to their code of ethics. The second type of party member, militants, are akin to traditional party members. They pay a flexible fee which starts at €3 and are members of the party's "circles," the "basic units of action" within the party, who elect the party's functionaries, participate in campaigning, and coordinate actions and projects in their local area.

Both types of supporters have influence over the direction of the party. Podemos invites all of its "inscritas" to participate in regular votes, including through “Ordinary Citizens Assemblies” held  every 5 years to vote on questions concerning the direction the party will take for the next legislative period. Additionally, the "Permanent Citizens' Assembly" can be convened at any time inviting all members to vote on important issues. A vote can be called by the party secretary; a majority of the steering committee; or by the "inscritas" themselves, in the form of a petition supported by 25% of all registered members. 

The role of militants extends beyond decision-making and campaigning. The party is conceived as a "tool" to allow people to do politics beyond traditional party structures. For example, there is a working group who helped arrange a national LGBTQI+ demonstration. The militants have a high degree of autonomy in determining the activities of their circles. The party would only intervene in the event that their activities explicitly contradict the party's code of ethics – something that in practice has never been necessary.


Podemos achieved a membership of 200,000 within just 20 days of its launch. This number peaked around 2016 with more than 500,000 members, though the party estimated that only around half of them were actively involved. In 2020, there were a total of 19,228 registered militants. The party currently has an estimated 350,000 members in total.  Beyond membership, they have had significant electoral success: as part of the Unidas Podemos alliance, they achieved 12.8% of the vote in the 2019 general elections, and are currently part of the national coalition government together with the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE).
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