How relevant and vital are political parties in contemporary democracies? Do they fulfill the functions that any stable and effective democracy might expect of them, or are they little more than moribund anachronisms, relics of a past age of political life, now superseded by other mechanismsof linkage between state and society? These are the central questions which this book aims to address through a rigorous comparative analysis of political parties operating in the world's advanced industrial democracies. Drawing on the expertise of an impressive team of internationally knownspecialists, the book engages systematically with the evidence to show that, while a degree of popular cynicism towards them is often chronic, though rarely acute, parties have adapted and survived as organizations, remodelling themselves to the needs of an era in which patterns of linkage andcommunication with social groups have been transformed. This has enabled them to remain central to democratic systems, especially in respect of the political functions of governance, recruitment and, albeit more problematically, interest aggregation. On the other hand, the challenges they face inrespect of interest articulation, communication and participation have pushed parties into more marginal roles within Western political systems. The implications of these findings for democracy depend on the observer's normative and theoretical perspectives. Those who understand democracy primarilyin terms of popular choice and control in public affairs will probably see parties as continuing to play a central role, while those who place greater store by the more demanding criteria of optimizing interests and instilling civic orientations among citizens are far more likely to be fundamentallycritical.