At some point in the last 30 years, left-of-center organizations eschewed the term "liberal" for the fancier-sounding "progressive," after the right wing had somehow turned "liberal" into a pejorative. Unfortunately for liberals, no one knows what the fuck "progressive" means.
According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, a full 54% of "national adults" are unsure if the word "progressive" describes their own political views, while only 12% think it does. Even worse, only 26% of self-described "liberals" think "progressive" describes their views, while 57% of them are unsure. This is not a great branding effort, when liberals don't know that they're supposed to love a synonym that the organized and funded left is using to describe them.
Close to half of Americans (45%) who identify with the progressive label separately describe their political views as either very liberal or liberal. At the same time, a third of progressives call themselves moderate and nearly a quarter, conservative — indicating that Americans' definitions of the term may vary widely or perhaps that Americans lack clarity about its current meaning in U.S. politics.
The poll shows, though, that the word "liberal" itself still doesn't poll well, garnering more negative reactions from "national adults." But that doesn't mean that "progressives" should keep running away from it forever, since the two words largely describe the same appetite for a strong, regulatory governance.
Republicans were able, over the last 30 years, to turn "liberal" into a dirty word that invokes images of welfare and gang crime and AIDS needles into the national consciousness. Think of when you see Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity uttering the word on TV, deliberately, condescendingly, out of the sides of their mouths. You can't just paper over that kind of long-term damage to a benign word by finding a glossy synonym. You have to defend it, repair it, and not let the bullies push you into a linguistic vacuum.