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Americans Unsure About "Progressive" Political Label

Americans Unsure About "Progressive" Political Label

PRINCETON, NJ -- Gallup polling reveals widespread public uncertainty about the "progressive" political label -- a label recently embraced by no less than Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. While Kagan described her political views as "generally progressive" during her Senate confirmation hearings, fewer than half of Americans can say whether "progressive" does (12%) or does not (31%) describe their own views. The majority (54%) are unsure.

Progressive Political Label -- Embraced, Rejected, Uncertainty About, Among All Americans as Well as by Ideology and Party ID

This measure of the progressive label was included in a June 11-13 USA Today/Gallup poll, which also assessed Americans' political ideology using Gallup's standard liberal-moderate-conservative scale.

Large segments of all three ideological groups are unsure what "progressive" means, though liberals are more likely to embrace than reject the label (26% vs. 17%), while conservatives are more likely to reject than embrace it (48% vs. 7%). Democrats are evenly divided on whether the term applies to their views, while Republicans overwhelmingly reject it.

Today's findings are consistent with those from a Gallup Panel poll conducted four years ago in which Americans rated their familiarity with "progressive" and five other political terms. At that time, 22% said they were very familiar with the progressive label and another 37% were somewhat familiar, while 40% were not too or not at all familiar -- much higher than the levels not familiar with "conservative" (8%) and "liberal" (10%).

Progressives Have a Diverse Political Profile

Close to half of Americans (45%) who identify with the progressive label separately describe their political views as either very liberal or liberal. At the same time, a third of progressives call themselves moderate and nearly a quarter, conservative -- indicating that Americans' definitions of the term may vary widely or perhaps that Americans lack clarity about its current meaning in U.S. politics.

Notably, the 22% of progressives calling themselves "very liberal" is much higher than the 7% of all Americans who do so.

Ideological Profile of Progressives vs. National Adults -- Conservative, Moderate, Liberal

Bottom Line

The progressive label seems to be gaining popularity in American politics, with numerous high-profile political players and groups using it either as a substitute for "liberal" or as a nuanced alternative to it. Given the high degree of public uncertainty about what the term means -- as well as the lack of opposition to it from the political center -- that could be a successful strategy, at least if the goal is to avoid being pigeonholed.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 11-13, 2010, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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