Difference Between Populism and Progressivism (With Table)

Since a country is run by its people, it is important to understand the value of equality and democracy in the growing world. Choosing a government is not enough for the people, but choosing a right government probably is.

Country is not run through just a written set of rules and regulations but there are some issues that can only be curbed through people’s representation. As there are humans, the society will have some sort of issues regarding equality, religion, etc..

Sometimes things are present by law but are not implemented correctly or some execution problems are faced due to diversity, for example India. In India there is a diversity of religions, castes, race, etc.. Although, there is provison of equality mentioned in bold in the constitution but often few classes face discrimination.

There are different political approaches of the government and people regarding the welfare of society. Some  people feel the need to uplift the weaker sections of society but some wants to run society with the persisting discrimination.

Sometimes few policies face retaliation due to injustice towards one section of society. The principles of democracy or equality or equity are questioned by people of the country who are probably facing injustice within a country.

Sometimes it is the demand of the situation, as one policy that is beneficial for an entrepreneur class might put farmers into misery, so an equitable policy should be made in order to give benefits to all sections rather than putting efforts for the already privileged class.

Populism vs Progressivism

The main difference between Populism and Progressivism is their ideology and approach. Populism and progressivism both aim to maintain a policy for ideal development and welfare of the people but their approach is different.


Comparison Table Between Populism and Progressivism

Parameters of comparisonPopulismProgressivism
Effect on democracyViolates democracyAdvocates democracy
PrinciplesDivides societyUnites society
ExistenceAlways prevailed in societyEmerged as need
Nature of approachBiased approachUnanimous approach
Impacts on societyBrings conflictBrings peace and prosperity


What is Populism?

Populism is a political approach wherein populist try to make a difference between common people and relatively higher classes ‘elites. It is seen as antidemocratic and a  permanent shadow of representative politics.

Populism can be explained through a simple ideology of dividing society in ‘us’ and ‘them’. It divides society wherein ‘us’ is the elite class and ‘them’ is the common people. The reason behind this ideology is the political approach is made by and for the elite social class.

All the welfare is done in order to develop the already developed class rather than upliftment of the whole society. It is more based on the idea of common representation and empowerment. The domain of populism is not only in the hands of right and left groups but also in hands of people or any group who faces problems with powerful segments.

It does not give a holistic approach towards development of society, it works within the borders of the biased society aiming for the welfare of society. Thus, impacts of populism are often conflicting.

Populism aims for the developed society but the people of upper sections are not willing to eliminate the difference within society predominantly prevailing on the basis of wealth of people which creates social problems.

Populism is conflicting due to it’s biased approach and certainly it is not new to the society, it is prevailing from the time of establishment of human society, making society biased and corrupt. Populism is often perceived as against of democractic values or democracy itself.

The term ‘Populism’ gained popularity when American populist movement started in the 1890s. Although it always prevailed in society, the term got popular by the American movement which was a farmer movement fighting for income inequality.


What is Progressivism?

Progressivism is a political philosophy, advocating social reforms based on the idea of progress in advancement, education, income, etc. with a more holistic approach. Unlike Populism, Progressivism unites people and leads ways in the direction of development for all and by all.

Progressivism aims to welfare programs that serve to raise the minimum quality of life across all sections of society. It makes people work together beyond the bars of unequal status of wealth, caste, class, religion etc..

There are no or less chances of conflicts, most probably the only challenge progressivism faces is corruption, wherein people are willing and doing work together to make a better society but some elements would try to fill their pockets in the first place.

Progressivism desires to give social and political representation to all ordinary people and certainly seeks to establish equity across the classes. Progressivism works in favour of democracy.

Progressivism can be synonymous to accepting reforms. It always welcomes reforms in political, social amendments to improve the human condition in modern society.   

Origin of progressivism can be seen during the period of enlightenment in the 18th century in western world with the commencement of the industrial revolution.

Main Differences Between Populism and Progressivism

  1. Populism is a biased political approach towards growth of society whereas progressivism is a unanimous approach towards growth of society.
  2. Populism divides the society in ‘us’ and ‘them’ on contrary progressivism unites the divided society.
  3. Populism creates conflicts in society whereas progressivism brings peace and prosperity to the society.
  4. Populism violates democracy and principle of democracy whereas progressivism advocates principles.
  5. Populism always prevailed from the times of establishment of human society on contrary progressivism was the need felt during the 18th century by people of the west.



Populism and progressivism both aim to develop society through different approaches.

Their goals are similar but their approach is different due to which progressivism is said to be an ideal approach for the future as well.

Populism and progressivism advocates welfare wherein populism can work for short term and progressivism being holistic approach can work in long terms.


  1. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/22551
  2. https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1267&context=fss_papers

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Editorial Staff at Ask Any Difference is a team of experts in the field of "Difference Between" topics and led by Sandeep Bhandari, Piyush Yadav and Chara Yadav. Trusted by over 1.5 million readers worldwide
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