American flags and vote sign

America is made up of two chief political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. Of course, there are other political parties, such as Libertarians and Independents. Since the time of FDR, however, there has been a discussion of “progressive” policies. Yes, these policies are chiefly associated with the Democratic Party, but, the average person typically may not be able to decipher the differences in a a progressive or liberal. Mistakenly, there are those who believe that progressives and liberals are one and the same.

The polarization of America is thought to be split between two factions: the Conservative right (thought to be Republican) and the Progressive left (thought to be Democrat). However, the Democratic party of today is really becoming more split as Progressive Democrats and Liberal Democrats no longer share the same views on typical Democratic policies.

Are Democrats liberal or progressive?

In short, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”

First, the Democratic Party is associated with both “liberals” and “progressives.” There is some debate as to why more individuals are beginning to gravitate more towards the term “progressive” rather than being called a liberal. A Georgetown University study found that many individuals believed the “liberal” term carried a negative connotation, therefore, it became more acceptable to be called a “progressive.”

However, this is not accurate. While some traditional Democrats carry the label of “liberal” with pride (think renowned attorney Alan Dershowitz), others prefer to be labeled a “progressive,” and it has nothing to do with a negative connotation.

Progressives have distinct policy ideas when it comes to economics.

A liberal may believe in the concept of using taxpayer money to assist those in need or to overall better society. They may not believe in a large government; in fact, many of them favor a smaller government, particularly where the everyday life of individuals is concerned.

Progressives want the government to not only utilize taxpayer money to correct an issue, but they want government regulation to correct the problem as well.

When asked, a progressive will likely agree with this distinction; most progressives are said to favor “individuals over corporate interests.” The liberal is more likely to embrace free speech and equality for all.

Classic liberals are influenced by the writings of those such as John Locke, and they are more supportive of individual freedoms and chief supporters of the Constitution and the rights given to Americans via the Bill of Rights.

Progressives are beginning to be aligned with Collectivism. Ironically, liberals of just a decade ago were beginning to acquire such a label, and this is likely why the group began using the term “progressive” to describe their policies.

In answer to the original question, a registered Democrat may be more moderate, given to individual freedom but fiscal responsibility (Senator Joe Manchin is a good example). This Democrat may identify as a liberal. However, there are registered Democratic voters who identify as progressives (Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proudly identifies as a progressive Democrat). These individuals favor not only social spending initiatives, such as free daycare for families making less than a certain amount, but they also believe the government should have an active hand in regulating certain industries.

What is causing the split between liberals and progressives?

There are multiple factors in this split in the Democratic Party. When Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016, his successes (albeit small ones) told the nation that more and more voters – particularly younger voters – firmly believed in the more progressive policies embraced by the Vermont Senator, who has often referred to himself as a Democratic Socialist.

However, the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, used many more liberal-sounding phrases in her campaign speeches. A reference to cooperative solutions to societal problems such as “Together We Can” or “Build Back Better” focus on the more liberal ideas that individuals working together can improve the country.

Progressives believe that certain institutions (the banking industry, for example) are holding those who are “marginalized” back. The only way to prevent this is to set up government regulations that monitor the activities of said institutions.

As of late, more establishment Democrats tend to support increasingly progressive policies. However, in the case of the Build Back Better legislation, some more “moderate” Democrats have deemed the bill fiscally irresponsible. President Joe Biden who used to be consider more of a moderate liberal Democrat, has been pulled more towards the progressive left as he has sought support for his agenda.

What does it mean to be progressive in politics?

Progressivism is a political philosophy that supports social reform. Ironically, it is not a new term in politics. It can be traced back to the Age of Enlightenment, when proponents of the idea believed that an individual’s life could be improved based on the advancement of technology, social organization, and economic development.

In the twentieth century, progressivism morphed once more as industrialism brought about social change in both America and in Europe. In America, President Franklin Roosevelt offered “progressive” policies such as the social programs he promoted in the New Deal (the Works Progress Administration, for instance).

It was during the twentieth century that progressivism began to take the form it holds today. Economic inequality was a huge focus of progressivism; they cited “monopolistic corporations” as a part of the problem and sought to increase regulation that would give the government more control over how these businesses operated.

One must note that some factions of progressive supporters also supported certain controversial tenets such as eugenics, which proponents believed would benefit overall public health.

The most modern version of progressivism is one in which supporters “aim to represent the interests of ordinary people through political change and the support of government actions.”

What does it mean to be liberal in politics?

Some believe that the term “liberal” garnered a negative connotation when Newt Gingrich used it repeatedly to describe his Democratic opponents. They also infer that the term “progressive” has been adopted as a more acceptable label.

However, while Gingrich might have made the term “liberal” a bad word in politics, a progressive and a liberal are truly different in their philosophies.

Liberalism came into favor during the Age of Enlightenment as well. Philosophers such as John Locke wrote about the ills of a monarchy as well as a state religion, among other topics.

Liberals are like progressives in that they favor ending monopolies in businesses, but they believe in free trade as well as a market economy.

Traditional liberals believe in individual rights. They support a democratic government that allows for freedom of speech and freedom of the press as well as promotes civil rights of every person.

Before 1920, the main opponents of liberalism were communism and socialism; however, after WWII and the Great Depression, liberalism was more associated with the expansion of the welfare state.

Liberals of the twentieth century can be credited with many improvements to the American way of life, such as the promotion of civil rights for all (regardless of race or gender) and universal access to education.

What are the differences in liberal and progressive beliefs?

Liberals today still believe in the civil rights of all individuals regardless of race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or gender. Liberals also fight for some government regulation of corporations and government entities as they initially did.

Progressives may hold the same idea regarding equal rights for all, but, when progressives today speak, they tend to speak of the marginalized individual.

The problem often lies in the approach that liberals and progressives take when tackling a problem.

Most liberals are not comfortable taking progressive stances against large corporations. Some say this is because the big corporations fund the liberal Democratic candidate’s campaign, and this may be somewhat true. However, most liberals understand how a free market society works. They also understand that numerous regulations cost businesses large and small a great deal of money – money that will be recouped somehow, usually in the price of goods. This hurts consumers, and liberals understand that this will not improve anyone’s economic status.

However, progressives believe that, overall, they are “standing up for the little guy,” even if that means taking on large corporations or other “establishment” entities. Some progressives are “left-leaning,” and want to “distinguish themselves from other Democrats.” At the same time, there are others who support legislation that is meant to both “progress” society as well as provide economic progress.

Even Bernie Sanders has lamented that a person can’t be both a moderate (liberal) or a progressive.

Progressives in Congress have worked further to separate themselves from the moderates and Classical liberals of the Democratic Party. The Progressive Caucus has been a part of Congress since 1991; there are about 100 members, mostly from the House of Representatives. One Senator serves on the committee. The current caucus is chaired by outspoken Representative Pramila Jayapal and includes individuals such as Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.