Is a progressive in the United States just a more extreme version of a liberal? New research suggests that is not the case. Self-described progressives and self-described liberals have significantly different views on a number of issues related to free speech, equality, diversity, and identity, according to a series of studies published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
“The rise of progressivism is an era-defining shift within the Western left-wing,” said study author Travis Proulx, a senior lecturer at the Cardiff University School of Psychology. “Rivalries with traditional liberals play out across social media, academics and electoral politics. While progressivism has been deemed the ‘successor ideology’ by some on the Left, no prior psychological measure has assessed the attitudes and behaviors that characterize this distinct worldview. We set out to devise a measure that could examine this split: the Progressive Values Scale (PVS).”
To develop the scale, Proulx and his colleagues used the Prolific research platform to recruit 182 U.S. participants who identified as either “progressive” or “liberal.” The participants indicated the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with 78 statements regarding persuasion, equality, identity, free speech, historical determinism, activism, and cultural appropriation.
Proulx and his colleagues narrowed down the issues to four general tendencies that distinguished progressives and liberals. First, progressives supported imposing immediate changes to increase diversity, such as maintaining diversity quotas. Second, progressives were opposed to cultural appropriation. Liberals, in contrast, were more likely to agree with statements such as “People should be permitted to adopt whatever cultural characteristics that appeal to them [music, fashion], regardless of status inequalities.”
Thirdly, progressives supported publicly censuring those perceived to hold discriminatory views. In other words, progressives tended to agree with statements such as “Those who express bigoted views should be exposed and deserve the backlash that follows.” Finally, progressives were less likely than liberals to express a desire to incrementally promote equality for the long-term and tended to disagree with statements such as “Most progress has been made by ignoring social identity and appealing to our shared experiences.”
“Relative to traditional liberals within the U.S. left-wing, it appears that progressives are more likely to 1) advocate for ‘Mandated Diversity’ within institutional settings, 2) show ‘Cultural Appropriation Concerns’ regarding creative expression, 3) apply ‘Public Censure’ of divergent views, and 4) are less likely to pursue a ‘Recourse to Existing Institutions’ to bring about political change,” Proulx told PsyPost.
In three subsequent studies, which included more than 1,200 participants in total, the researchers confirmed the four factor structure of the Progressive Values Scale. “We also find that holding certain progressive values is associated with personality traits,” Proulx said. “For example, supporting ‘Mandated Diversity’ is associated with heightened empathy, ‘Cultural Appropriation Concerns’ are associated with anxious tendencies, and advocating for ‘Public Censure’ is associated with negative views of oneself.”
Importantly, the researchers tested the Progressive Values Scale against the Left-Wing Authoritarianism Index, which assesses a person’s support for anti-hierarchical aggression, top-down censorship, and anti-conventionalism. There was not substantial overlap between the two measures, indicating that the Progressive Values Scale was measuring a distinct construct.
“In spite of common characterizations of this distinction (e.g., ‘progressive’ vs. ‘moderate’ liberals), progressives appear to differ from traditional liberals more as a matter of kind (i.e., holding different beliefs) than degree (i.e., being ‘extreme’ left-wingers),” Proulx said. “It remains to be determined whether these same differences in kind manifest within non-U.S. left-wing cultural contexts.”
“We hope that greater acknowledgment and understanding of these divergent values might be the first step in resolving – or at least accommodating – these perspectives within a broader left-wing worldview.”
The study, “The Progressive Values Scale: Assessing the Ideological Schism on the Left“, was authored by Travis Proulx, Vlad Costin, Elena Magazin, Natalia Zarzeczna, and Geoffrey Haddock.