Difference Between Progressive and Liberal

Progressive vs Liberal

Whether or not you are a member of a political party, it has become common for people to label themselves as progressives, conservatives, populists, or liberals depending upon what suits their image. These are like brands in political ideologies, and it makes a person more comfortable to be known as having leanings towards a particular ideology rather than having no backbone at all. There is a lot of confusion in the minds of people regarding the meanings of liberal and progressive because of similarities between the two terms. While the term progressive stands for reforms and improvements rather than remaining stuck or stagnant, liberal is not much different. However, there are subtle differences that will be highlighted in this article.


Progressive is an ideology that stands for changes on all fronts whether it is social, political or economic and is just opposite to conservatism that opposes reforms and changes. Progressive ideology came to limelight because of the changes in the society and political arenas resulting from industrialization and also because people got fed up with the reactionary and conservative attitudes. This label suits those who think of themselves as working for social justice and empowerment of the poor and weaker sections of the society. A progressive is one who is always feeling he can provide better conditions and policies for the people.

A progressive ideology is in favor of more equitable distribution of the assets for all and better opportunities for work and education for people of all classes without providing any special benefits or privileges to a class of people, business, or organization. Thus, progressives can be seen trying to get maximum for maximum categories of people. Often their feelings are reflected in programs like Social Security, Minimum Wages, and Medicare. Devolution of power to the grassroots levels is something that progressives always work for.


Liberal is a political ideology and liberal is a person who believes in the ideals of liberty and equality. Liberalism is what a liberal stands for, and this translates into human rights for all, free and fair elections, and allow the right to religion to the followers of all faiths. Liberal attitude is a result of resentment and anger towards monarchy, divinity of kings and princes, and social norms that brought misery and treated people as unequal.

Renaissance and protestant reform movements across Europe led to the development of liberal attitudes and thinking. John Locke is considered the father of Liberalism and his Two Treatises led to an awakening that eroded the divine rights of Kings and monarchs and established governments that derived power from the people and worked for the people.

Progressive vs Liberal

From the description of the liberals and progressives given above, one might be tempted to equate them as they both appear to be so close in their thinking. Despite their similarities, very few of the liberals would like to be branded as progressives. In a recent poll, it was found that 2/3rd of people thought of progressive as a positive ideology while the word liberal brought positive comments from only 50% of the population. This was surprising given that 62% of the population thought of conservatism as more positive. In fact, the image of liberals has taken a beating because of scathing attacks by the Republicans lately. So much so that liberals like Hilary Clinton are being forced to talk of themselves as progressives. To understand the basic difference in the thinking of liberals and progressives, one can see how differently they react to abuse of the Palestinians by the Israelites. Progressives do not have any fear while criticizing Israel’s actions while liberals can be seen supporting Israel as they are afraid of being labeled anti-Semitic.

  • tings5

    You carelessly mention, as you put it, “abuse of the Palestinians by the Israelites” but fail to point out the rockets being launched into Israel over and over by Palestinian terrorists. Why not be fair when trying to educate people on the differences between ideological terms?

    • Matt Begley

      Israel is an occupying force, justifying their invasion with religious nonsense about a promised land; They are the oppressors, the ZIONAZIs. Those you call terrorists are freedom fighters.

  • MikeW

    This whole write-up is not only confusing but clearly not objective at all. Read it through the lenses of a moderate or even (gasp!) a conservative, and the pro-Liberal and Progressive bias jumps right off the page.

  • mtc

    Left wing biased blather.

  • deathhound7

    Hillary Clinton isn’t a liberal or a progressive. She’s a moderate at best on social issues, and could easily be described as right-of-center economically. The article seems to also confuse classic liberalism with what we know as liberalism. Liberalism focuses on increased funding, while progressivism focuses more on regulation and reform. Also, liberalism didn’t become a dirty word simply because of the smears of conservatives. It has more to do with economic dominance of conservatives in the fiscal debate, as well as public fatigue over political correctness.

  • Aaron Stites

    Progressives are basically liberals with balls.