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Progressive Caucus, Populist Caucus: Progressiver Than Thou?

Late last month, second-term congressman Bruce Braley of Iowa announced the formation of the Populist Caucus in the 111th Congress, a group organized around advocacy for the following principles:

Creating Good Jobs and a Secure Retirement: Creating and retaining good-paying jobs in America, providing fair wages, proper benefits, a level playing field at the negotiating table, and ensuring American workers have secure, solvent retirement plans;

Cutting Taxes for the Middle Class: Cutting taxes for the middle class and establishing an equitable tax structure;

Affordable Healthcare: Providing affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans;

Quality, Affordable Education: Ensuring quality primary education for all American children, and affordable college education for all who want it;

Fair Trade: Defending American competitiveness by fighting for fair trade principles;

Protecting Consumers: Protecting consumers, so that Americans can have faith in the safety and effectiveness of the products they purchase.

This set of principles is an economic bread-and-butter subset of progressive values, articulated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus as:

1. Fighting for Economic Justice and Security in the U.S. and Global Economies
2. Protecting and Preserving Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
3. Promoting Global Peace and Security
4. Environmental Protection & Energy Independence

Is one out of four so bad? Given the limited scope of the Populist Caucus, a skeptic might call it the perfect home for someone who wants to put a chicken in every pot, but doesn’t care about freedom, peace or the environment. An optimist might call membership in the Populist Caucus a sign of useful specialization, like a subcommittee.

If you have the former perspective on the Populist Caucus, you might expect the Populists to be less progressive than the Progressives. If you have the latter perspective on the Populist Caucus, then you’d see membership in the Populists as another sign of commitment to progressivism, albeit just one part. These perspectives suggest hypotheses:

Skeptic’s Hypothesis: Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who subscribe to a more expansive agenda, will be more progressive than members of the Populist Caucus, who subscribe to a more limited agenda.

Optimist’s Hypothesis: Membership in the either the Progressive Caucus or the Populist Caucus signifies some commitment to progressivism. Membership in both is a sign of stronger progressive commitment.

To figure out whether the optimistic or skeptical perspective is more reasonable, let’s look at what members of the Progressive and Populist caucuses have actually done so far in the 111th Congress. Without prior reference to membership in either caucus, over at That’s My Congress we’ve developed an index called the Progressive Action Score. It is a 0-100 score for each Representative that is equal to the percentage of our slate of progressive legislative votes and cosponsorships engaged in by a member of the House of Representatives. The higher the score, the more closely a Representative follows the path of progressivism in the Congress. A score of 100 would indicate a perfect match, and a score of 0 would indicate a thorough abandonment of the progressive agenda.

As of today, the average Progressive Action Score for members of the House of Representatives is 22.9. The average score for members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is 42.5, and the average score for members of the Populist Caucus is 41.2. A first-pass conclusion is that members of the Progressive Caucus and the Populist Caucus are more akin to each other than they are to the rest of the members of the House. Strike one against the Skeptic’s Hypothesis.

Let’s get a little more resolution on this data. What about people who are members of both caucuses? How do they compare to those who are members of just one caucus, or to those who are members of neither?

Average Progressive Action Score for those not a member of either the Progressive Caucus or the Populist Caucus: 19.8

Average Progressive Action Score for those who are ONLY members of the Populist Caucus: 27.1

Average Progressive Action Score for those who are ONLY members of the Progressive Caucus: 39.0

Average Progressive Action Score for those who are members of BOTH the Progressive Caucus and the Populist Caucus: 53.1

Membership in the Congressional Progressive Caucus is a predictor of somewhat stronger progressivism than membership in the Congressional Populist Caucus — but both are predictors of progressivism. Membership in both caucuses is associated with the greatest commitment to progressivism in voting and cosponsorship.

To my eye, the Optimist’s Hypothesis is more strongly supported. An empirically-minded progressive should welcome the formation of the Populist Caucus and look forward to the possibility of action coordinated between it and the Progressive Caucus. Anything of this sort would be an improvement over the lassitude of the past.

8 comments to Progressive Caucus, Populist Caucus: Progressiver Than Thou?

  • qs

    I think the more liberal the country becomes the more the government will be controlling us and social engineering us etc. Liberals have a dark vision of government control.

  • Jim

    The qs hypothesis is not borne out by the Bush years.

  • qs

    Bush was a commie thug.

    • Jim

      Bush was idolized and supported whole-hog by the Republican party until he proved unpopular, at which point everyone in the GOP started pretending they’d never heard his name.

      • qs

        Well Reagan was terrible too. It’s just that Clinton turned out even worse.

        Bush is no good for sure though.

      • qs

        I think a lot of it is that we HATE the republican party and don’t want to vote for them, but then there is the Demoncrat party who scares us to death. So the republicans can take the attitude of ya we’ll rape you but we’ll do it nicely whereas if you let the dems get power, there will be hell to pay.

  • qs

    Republicans are getting good at making the government larger like the Democrats maybe worse…well that was until Obama. He seems worse than a normal dim to me.

    I score every U.S. president since Coolidge an F grade. Maybe Collidge was crappy too, but I wasn’t around to be annoyed my him as much. Maybe all F’s since Cleveland.

    Actually we’d be better off without “presidents.”

  • qs

    I like Mitt Romney’s three legged stool platform for the American Right only he’s got it all wrong.

    Guns, Gold, and Secession. Anything else is just gobble gook.

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