Progressive Caucus, Populist Caucus: Progressiver Than Thou?
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.