Where Do Progressive Democrats Go From Here?

By H. Harrison Coleman IV

Leavenworth, Kansas

Young people are overwhelmingly on the side of the Progressives (Photo Credit: New York Magazine)

The Democratic Party is currently divided. Since President Bill Clinton’s presidency, the ideology which has dominated the Democratic Party, Third Way centrism, has come to its end. As new generations and ideas enter the political ring, a new ideology has risen up within the Democratic Party to challenge the old centrists—Progressivism.


Progressivism is an internal Democratic movement growing in popularity rapidly. The policies pushed by Progressives are reforms such as Medicare For All and the Green New Deal. As many Progressives are openly socialist and backed by leftist groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America, the Progressives exist as the leftmost group in American politics.


Despite their apparent extremism, progressive policies have gained significant popularity with the general public. For example, Medicare For All has a 69% approval rating. Progressive policies have even gone on to influence other members of the Democratic party, as President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $15—a program taken directly from Progressive standard bearer Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).


The 2020 elections were a banner year for the Progressives, even though it was a less-than-ideal event for the rest of the Democratic Party. As moderate Democrats lost many elections, the Progressives, by challenging incumbents in party primaries, are set to grow, and the popularity of their policies has been all but affirmed.


In states all across the nation, voters approved ballot measures that mandated raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in Florida, decriminalizing the possession of all drugs in Oregon, and instituted a paid medical and family leave program in Colorado—all of which are trademark policies of the Progressives. In four states—Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Arizona—recreational cannabis was approved, a policy championed by Progressives but spurned by centrists.


The cunning tactic the Progressives employ is to defeat moderate Democrats in the party primaries that occur before general elections. Although this is best exemplified in Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (NY-14) historic win over Centrist Joe Crowley, it has been replicated several times over in other races. Take the 2020 case of Marie Newman in Illinois’ 3rd District, who successfully primaried notable conservative Democrat Congressman Dan Lipinski, who had served in Congress since 2005.


The influence of Progressivism is most apparent in the House of Representatives. Progressive victories beating incumbent Democrats in primaries is not uncommon and these wins lead to the slow leftward shift of the party.


In the 2019-2021 term of Congress, there are 233 Democrats in the House. But after the 2020 election, there will be only 222. Many on the left have rightly pointed fingers at the unpopular, Centrist Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) for this backsliding.


In a darkly humorous twist of fate, the success of the Progressives, combined with the lackluster performance of the Centrists has granted the left-leaning faction greater control of the House. The co-sponsors of the 2019 Medicare For All bill will make up a majority of House Democrats,standing at 53% of House Democrats who will support the adoption of universal healthcare.

Make no mistake—the Progressives were given a mandate this year: Of all the Democrats who supported Medicare For All, every single one of them kept their seats. Of all the Democrats who supported the Green New Deal, only one lost. This is not because progressives are located in safe Democratic urban districts, even though there is admittedly a clear urban bias to the seats the progressives hold. The Progressive Democrats in swing districts, such as Representatives Jared Golden (ME-2) Katie Porter (CA-45) all won reelection, even as their respective districts voted for Donald Trump.


The progressive members in Congress have introduced a bold slate of new policies from the aforementioned Medicare For All bill to public banking to Universal Basic Income. Many Progressives have their problems with a centrist Biden presidency but have shown a willingness to work with the rest of the Democratic Party. For them, it's just a waiting game.


Young people are overwhelmingly on the side of the Progressives, and as Gen. Z increasingly becomes of voting age, the Centrist democrats face a demographic crisis. About half of Gen. Z approves of some form of socialism, and support for policies like Medicare For All has skyrocketed among young people over the last few years. This comes as Gen Z has been named the largest generation by population in US history.


In the coming years, Centrist Democrats will have to fight for their control of the Democratic Party, but the demographics show they’re playing a losing game.


Politics has taken on a clear leftward shift in the last few years, from the Presidency to Congress. As the younger generations come of voting age, and regressive government structures give way to their leftist replacements, the future of American politics looks to be dominated by figures such as Ocasio-Cortez. It is not a question of if, but of when.