In the early years of the 21st Century, the term “progressive” gained popularity in the media and among elites and voters, but there was little consensus as of 2008 regarding what progressive identification meant. Clarification of progressive values and political values is likely to become a matter of strategic importance to candidates and officeholders, particularly if the trend toward increasing progressive self-identification continues.
In this Commonweal Institute report, Princeton political science professor Jessica Trounstine takes an important step toward understanding those who say that they consider themselves progressive and those who report a positive view of the term. She analyzes seven major surveys conducted from 2005 to the present to identify the values, attitudes and demographic portrait of today’s progressives. The seven unique sources of data are surveys by Democracy Corps, Gallup, Harris Interactive, the Kaiser Foundation, Pew Research Center, Rasmussen Reports, and Zogby International. For comparison, she also looked at data on liberal identifiers from the American National Election Survey.
The varying methods for determining self-identification in the different surveys had strong effects on the poll results. In particular, when respondents were cued to think of progressive as a substitute for the term liberal, their views looked similar to those of liberals; when they were cued to think of progressive as a substitute for very liberal, their views were more consistently left or liberal. But when respondents were asked whether or not they consider themselves progressive independent of other ideological options, their views were less cohesive, and more similar to moderate identifiers. In fact, surveys by Gallup and Kaiser found that fewer than half of self-identified progressives consider themselves Democrats (48% and 42%, respectively), while 35% and 30% respectively consider themselves Independents (unless pushed to declare a party identification), and 16% and 23% respectively consider themselves Republicans.
Dr. Trounstine reports that today’s progressives pay a great deal of attention to politics. Support for the term “progressive” has increased over time, with progressive identification being most popular with respondents under the age of 50 and men. Progressives tend to be better educated and to earn more money than the average survey respondent, and are less religious on average than other ideological groups.
Self-identified progressives are more supportive than the general public of government intervention in the economy, both in terms of regulating business and redistributing income. They also tend to support government efforts to safeguard the environment. Progressives are committed to diplomacy as the cornerstone of foreign policy and tend to have positive views of immigrants.
The full report contains details about the values and issue positions embraced by self-identified progressives, with a comparison to those of self-identified liberals; racial/ethnic, age, gender, and religious preferences for the terms progressive or liberal; and other relevant demographic variables.
Read the full report.