April 30, 2021

Voters Support Progressive Politics Without Seeing Radical Influence at Work

Gustavo Sanchez and Charlotte Swasey

Likely voters in the United States are becoming more comfortable with policies that would enact large changes to the existing political and economic order in response to the twin crises of a pandemic and an economic downturn. We find strong support for pandemic relief, mask mandates, minimum wage increases and a Green New Deal. Support for these proposed policies concentrated among likely voters that self-identify as Democrats. Crucially, despite some serious Republican opposition to these proposals, support remains high. Many of these policies are associated with the left and Progressive wings of the Democratic Party, and denounced on the right as too radical.


Likely voters also do not believe that radical activists have a lot of influence over their representatives in Congress. Only 15 percent estimate “radical activists” have a “a lot” of influence over their representatives. This figure is basically flat across self-identified partisanship at 13 percent for Republicans and 17 percent for Democrats.

It’s not clear that likely voters code “radical activists” as left per se, since we see very similar responses from Republicans with Republican representatives, and Democrats with Democratic representatives, and vice versa. Democrats are more concerned about the influence of white supremacists, particularly those who are currently represented by Republicans. It seems that much like disapproval of Congress, fears over the influence of radicals is mostly a national issue that voters do not connect to their specific representative.


There is some evidence that particularly salient so-called “radical” positions can become obligatory punching bags for the opposing party. We see greater numbers of Republicans reporting that a candidate’s position on “defund the police” influenced their vote (40 percent reporting “a lot” of influence), while Democrats report more influence from positions on “police reform” (38 percent saying it had “a lot” of influence).


Republicans are reporting a lot of influence by candidate positions on an issue which they are almost entirely opposed to, and which their party-aligned candidate was highly unlikely to support. More likely, the signaling they’re responding to was public opposition, rather than a shift in legislative or political goals.


We see that the policy ideas and demands brought into the mainstream by the Progressive and left wing of the party have gained widespread support and become influential on the voting decisions of Democrats. At the same time, a subset have become definitional issues mostly used by Republicans to set themselves apart. There is no current evidence that this opposite-of-litmus-test use has a great influence on Democratic voters, although certain moderate candidates may be using their opposition in a similar way.

International Organizations

Voters aren’t particularly aware of the international organizations tested in this poll. A majority don’t know enough to express an opinion about the IMF, while more feel informed about the WHO and WTO. Opinions are heavily influenced by partisanship, as well as higher education generally being linked to greater knowledge about the organizations. 


Attitudes about the various organizations efforts to fight climate change are highly correlated with overall opinion, interacting with belief in the importance of combating climate change. 

Republicans and Democrats both agree that the Democratic party is doing more to combat climate change than the Republican party, with 28 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Republicans saying the party is doing “a lot”. The United Nations (U.N.) also gets credit from likely voters for work on climate change. The International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.), World Health Organization (W.H.O.), and World Trade Organization (W.T.O.) do not. Given the large number of likely voters who have not heard enough about these organizations to give an opinion, we should not be surprised we fail to see  knowledge of specific policy choices these organizations have or have not made. 

As a whole, likely voters are extremely optimistic about the efforts of their own country, and suspicious of other countries and actors. The largest partisan distinction is that Democrats do not think that the Republican Party is working to combat climate change. Democrats also give more credit to other countries, but retain suspicion about Russia. Again, this is almost certainly reflective of general feelings about the intentions of these countries, not specific climate policies they are or are not enacting.



From February 23 to February 25, 2021, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 1,182 likely voters nationally using web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points.

Gustavo Sanchez (@lgsanchezconde) is a Principal at Data for Progress.

Charlotte Swasey (@charlotteeffect) is the VP of Polling and Data at Data for Progress.

With support from the German Foreign Office (AA)