Resolving the Progressive Paradox: Conservative Value Framing of Progressive Economic Policies Increases Candidate Support
Jan Voelkel, Joseph Mernyk, and Robb Willer
While polls show progressive economic policies are popular, progressive candidates typically lose elections in the U.S. One explanation for this progressive paradox is that the opponents of progressive candidates often win through “symbolic politics,” successfully harnessing values and ideologies that receive broad support from the general public. Here we explore one solution to the progressive paradox, testing whether progressive candidates achieve greater support by framing their policy platforms in terms of values and ideologies that resonate beyond the progressive base. We tested this claim in two experiments (total N=4,138), including one pre-registered experiment conducted on a nationally representative sample. We found that a presidential candidate who framed his progressive economic platform to be consistent with more conservative value concerns like patriotism, family, and respect for tradition – as opposed to more liberal value concerns like equality and social justice – was supported significantly more by conservatives and, unexpectedly, by moderates as well. These effects were mediated by perceived value similarity with the candidate. Furthermore, a manipulation of how progressive the candidate’s platform was had weak and inconsistent effects, and did not interact with the framing of the platform. These findings indicate that in our experiments framing mattered more than policy, suggesting that moral reframing could be an effective alternative to policy centrism for candidates seeking broader support. Our results illustrate the important effects of value framing of economic policy, offering a solution to the longstanding puzzle regarding the gap between progressive policy and candidate support.