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Progressive politics – explain it like I’m five

what is progressive politics

Progressivism is a political ideology that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a response to the rapid industrialisation, urbanisation, and social change that accompanied the Gilded Age. Progressives believed in using the power of government to address social, economic, and political problems and promote the well-being of society as a whole.


At its core, progressivism is based on the idea of progress, or the belief that society can and should continually improve. Progressives believed that government had a responsibility to intervene in the economy and society to promote greater equality, social justice, and individual rights. This could involve regulating big business, protecting workers’ rights, and providing social welfare programs.

Progressives also believed in greater political participation and democracy. They pushed for reforms such as the direct election of senators, women’s suffrage, and the initiative, referendum, and recall, which gave citizens more power to shape public policy.

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Some key figures associated with progressivism include President Theodore Roosevelt, who championed trust-busting and conservation policies, and President Woodrow Wilson, who supported the creation of the Federal Reserve and the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women’s suffrage.

Early Progressive Issues

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Early progressive politics emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in response to various economic, social, and political issues. Some of the key issues raised during this period included:

Workers' rights

Many progressives were concerned with the poor working conditions, low wages, and long hours that many workers endured. They advocated for laws and regulations to protect workers, including minimum wage laws, workplace safety regulations, and the right to form unions.

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Women's suffrage

The early progressive movement was closely associated with the fight for women’s suffrage. Women’s rights activists argued that women should have the right to vote and participate in the political process.

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Many progressives were concerned with the growing power of large corporations and monopolies. They called for antitrust laws to break up these monopolies and promote competition.

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Public health and safety

Early progressives were also concerned with public health and safety issues. They advocated for laws to improve sanitation, regulate food and drug safety, and provide safe housing for the poor.

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Education reform

Many progressives believed that education was a key tool for social and economic progress. They called for improvements to the public school system, including more funding, better teacher training, and higher standards for students.

Civil rights

Some early progressives were also concerned with issues of civil rights and racial justice. They advocated for an end to segregation and discrimination, as well as for voting rights for African Americans.

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Today, progressivism is often associated with the left wing of the Democratic Party in the United States. Progressives continue to advocate for policies such as universal healthcare, a living wage, and climate change action, among other issues. However, the term can also be used more broadly to refer to any political movement that seeks to promote progress and social change through government intervention.

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