An Emerging Progressive Majority

Two CAP reports studying shifting trends in the electorate were released and discussed at an event Wednesday along with the launch of the CAP Progressive Studies Program.

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“Seventy to 80 percent of Americans in some way agree with progressive ideas,” said John D. Podesta, CEO and President of the Center for American Progress, at the launch of the Center’s new Progressive Studies Program on Wednesday afternoon. As Podesta noted, this represents a “seismic shift away from Bush’s neo-conservative legacy” and marks a “transformation in [American] ideological attitudes after three decades of Reagan’s model of conservatism.”

The program’s launch released and featured the findings of two CAP reports on the emerging progressive majority in America. The reports’ authors, CAP Senior Fellows John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, also Co-Directors of the Progressive Studies Program, spoke about the findings and were joined by Mark Schmitt, Executive Editor of The American Prospect and Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

After President Obama’s victory in the November 2008 election it became clear that America had entered a new progressive era. Halpin explained that the new program will take a two-pronged approach to studying this progressive trend. The program will examine contemporary progressivism’s historical roots and philosophy as well as conduct analyses of demographic and public opinion data.

One of the reports on America’s budding progressivism was authored by Halpin and Karl Agne and titled, “State of American Political Ideology, 2009.” It studied Americans’ basic political values and beliefs through a national survey. The survey included a battery of 40 statements, each of which was a positive expression of either a conservative or progressive argument, with an even mix between conservative and progressive arguments. Overall, Americans expressed more agreement with the progressive than conservative arguments. Indeed, six of the top seven statements, in terms of level of agreement, were progressive statements. These statements included such items as the need for government investment in education, infrastructure, and science; the need for a transition to clean energy; the need for government regulation; and the need to provide financial support for the poor, the sick, and the elderly

“Another significant finding was the increase in public favor for progressivism” said Halpin. From 2004 to 2009 there was a net change of 22 percent in favor of progressivism.

The other report presented, “New Progressive America,” was written by Teixeira. It examined demographic and geographic trends in order to understand the country’s current movement toward progressivism. Several shifts emerged from the report’s data as particularly significant: the growth of minorities; the rise of the Millennial generation; the increasingly progressive leanings of white college graduate voters, another growing constituency; and the alignment of the burgeoning professional and single women groups with progressives.

Teixeira highlighted the “startling growth” in the share of the progressive-leaning minority vote, which increased from 15 percent in the 1988 presidential election to 26 percent in 2008. Latinos make by far the largest contribution to this growing minority population. However, Lopez noted that for reasons of voter eligibility, Hispanics “haven’t yet achieved [their full] political weight. [However] by 2040 the percent of Hispanics should match that of the rest of the adult population.”

The youth vote demonstrated not only strong turnout in the 2008 election, but also strong progressive affinities, voting 66 to 32 percent in favor of Obama. Millennial eligible voters—those born between 1978 and 2000—will also undergo a remarkable growth-spurt in the near future. The demographic, which is much more diverse than the rest of the population, will nearly double from 48 million eligible voters in 2008 to 90 million by 2020.

The Center’s reports revealed that the level of education is a significant indicator of the political ideologies of white voters. Although non-college-educated or working-class white voters tend to be economically populist they are strongly conservative in other areas, particularly cultural, military, and foreign policy issues. White college graduate voters, on the other hand, tend to be more progressive overall despite occasionally leaning more toward the conservative camp on certain economic issues.

These “demographic trends [that are] reshaping the electorate will continue,” said Teixeira, and with them progressive sentiment will increasingly define America’s zeitgeist. What will this mean for our political future and the seemingly perpetual ebb and flow between conservatives and progressives? Schmitt proposed that the undeniable mounting progressivism of the electorate will ultimately mean that “progressive values will turn into facts and those facts will last.”

For more on these reports, see:

Report: New Progressive America by Ruy Teixeira

Report: The State of American Political Ideology, 2009, by John Halpin

Interactive Map: New Progressive America

Interactive Quiz: How Progressive Are You?

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