When Bill De Blasio announced his run for President back in May, he was greeted with mockery and laughter. When Andrew Yang announced his run for President more than a year and a half ago, he wasn’t greeted at all. The 44 year old Democratic candidate published no fancy Youtube video, held no crowded town hall event, and certainly did not go around New York City in the hopes of finding some tourists shouting: “Yang for President!”. Mr. Yang, of Asian descent, silently kicked off his presidential campaign in November 2017, in the midst of total indifference.
The Yang movement, or the “YangGang” – that’s how his supporters like calling themselves -gained significant momentum in the early months of 2019, when Mr.Yang started appearing on notorious Podcast series such as the Joe Rogan Experience and The Daily Wire. The interest in Yang has surged mainly thanks to his unconventional proposal of giving every American 1000 dollars every month. In more technical terms, Mr.Yang is proposing a Universal Basic Income – which he calls Freedom Dividend – claiming that it is the best way to fight the inevitable advent of automation. Following Yang’s reasoning, automation should take over most middle American jobs in the next 20 years or so, and there’s nothing we can do about that. We can, however, start preparing for this “catastrophe” by giving enough money to Americans in order for them to survive even without working. Quite a controversial way of thinking for a country that has the concept of work so deeply embedded within its culture.
It comes as no surprise then, that the so called “YangGang” is composed mostly of college students and unemployed citizens. But Mr.Yang also has genuine support from several tech companies, which see in him the politician that could finally get rid of difficult employer-employee relations: by allowing more people to sit at home and wait for their government sponsored monthly paycheck, tech companies could finally be free to fully automate without having to worry about workers losing their jobs, thereby making their production process more efficient while reducing internal costs.
In theory, Mr.Yang’s plan may look appealing to the more radical wing of the Democratic party, but is it enough to convince a Sanders or a Warren supporter to vote for him instead? In order to provide an answer to this question we first need to comprehend what differs Yang from Sanders and Warren. The main difference is that the two Senators utilize the populist rhetoric to deliver their message, while Mr.Yang does not. By populist rhetoric I mean the idea of, “the people against the elite”. For Warren it’s “the people against the big tech companies”, for Sanders it’s “the people against the 1%”; different facets of the same concept. For Yang, however, there is no people and there is no elite, the blame has to be placed on the system instead. While he does acknowledge that the people most affected by the automation process will be middle class citizens, he doesn’t blame the elite for that, nor the big tech companies. Instead, he acknowledges that big tech companies won’t disappear anytime soon, and it’s much more worthwhile trying to coexist with them rather than fight them. This is why the idea of a Universal Basic Income emerged.
If Yang will be able to successfully communicate what sets him apart from Sanders and Warren, he definitely has a shot at increasing his support. A big opportunity to start doing this is at the Democratic Primary debates to be held at the end of June, for which Yang has qualified by surpassing the 65 thousand unique donors threshold. While Sanders and Warren are politicians with many debates under their belt, Yang has the advantage of being an underdog, not known by many people outside of the internet. He can, therefore, start with a clean slate, without too much pressure on him.
Even though some may think that his understated delivery may affect him negatively in a political debate setting, I actually think that it will help him stand out from the rest of the group. The tone of voice and the manner in which he presents himself to the public is another way that he can distinguish himself from the populist mode of communication; an attempt that some people may actually appreciate, especially after nearly 4 years of Trump’s insults and shouting.
Overall, Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination remains a long shot, especially because his supporters only constitute a niche and he has zero political experience. However, the upcoming debates are a good chance to get some attention from the mainstream media. If Mr.Yang cannot win the nomination, he can at least try to raise the universal basic income as a point of discussion. If he gains a significant amount of traction, his voters could become indispensable in a hypothetical radical left standoff between Sanders and Warren. At that point, Yang could become a potential running mate for either of the two Senators and help one of them win the nomination at the expense of the other.