Populism vs. Progressivism: What's the Difference?

Key Difference

The American society holds rich heritage from different revolutions to ideologies, it has directly added much to the world burgeoning ‘modernization’. If we evaluate some last 150 years, Populism and Progressivism are the two ideologies or philosophies that went on to become movements in America. Populism, initiated back in late 19th century was a movement that was led by the farmers for the economic change, whereas Progressivism, commenced in the beginning of 20th century was the movement of urban middle class against the political system, which they believe was corrupt and the electable were chosen through unfair elections.

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Comparison Chart

Populism Progressivism
Aim To reform the economic system. Focused on bringing the political reforms.
Key Players It was led by the farmers and other people associated with agriculture. The educated urban middle class were the key player in it.
Era Arose in last decade of the 19th century. This campaign was initiated in the early 20th century.
Ideas Populism brought ideas like reforms in the civil services, regulation of banks and industries, 8 hours work for labor. Progressivism mainly revolved around the political reforms and its borne issues like inflation and corruption in the business class

What is Populism?

The term Populism is derived from the Latin word ‘Populus’ which means people in English. The movement, Populism arose in America in last decade of the 19th century by the farmers and other associated with agriculture as the followers of this political ideology believes that industrialists and bankers had much interference in government and the policies driven by them were against the farmers to destabilize them economically. The stakeholders of this movement were called ‘populist’, they later formed a political party to secure their interests. The basic demands of this group were to impose more taxes on top business class and to get a dedicated share of the income tax via the 16th amendment. Populists totally negated the laissez-faire and urged the government to take matters directly into their hands from ownership of the railroad, telephone, and telegraph systems to taking the control of banks and industries. This down-to-up movement got their objectives fulfilled gradually as their demand for reforms in the civil services, regulation of banks and industries, 8 hours work for labor later acceded.

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What is Progressivism?

The movement was initiated by urban middle class in the early 20th Century, the sole aim of the ideology was to stand against the powerful (rich) as the people part of this belief that unfair election system, corruption in the business class, exploitation of workers, women and children prevailed in the society. Keeping this in view they stood against the riches after they got deep plunge in dissatisfaction. The other issues like inflation and unstable legal system also forced them to stand against the system. The ideology unfolded from top-to-bottom and got spread widely among masses, though the key players were educated people of the urban middle class. The men and women equally stood against the inflation which arose due to the influx of the immigrants. The ideology intended to uplift the country with an idea of political reforms.

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Populism vs. Progressivism

  • Populism aimed to reform the economic system, while Progressivism was focused on bringing the political reforms.
  • The movement, Populism arose in in last decade of the 19th century, whereas Progressivism was a campaign initiated in the early 20th century.
  • Populism was led by the farmers and other people associated with agriculture, on the other hand, the educated urban middle class was the key player in Progressivism.
  • Populism is a down-up-movement that began with farmers aligning against the economics system, while Progressivism is a top-to-bottom approach as it began with top tiers of urban middle class.
  • Populism brought ideas like reforms in the civil services, regulation of banks and industries, 8 hours work for labor, while Progressivism mainly revolved around the political reforms and its borne issues like inflation and corruption in the business class.

Explanatory Video

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