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Friday, April 19, 2024

The Andrew Yang phenomenon

Why young people from across the political spectrum are turning to an innovative Democrat

I first heard about Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur turned political dark horse, in late 2017 when researching possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Yang had already filed his campaign with the Federal Election Commission and was thus one of the few declared candidates listed on Wikipedia. At the time, Yang was perceived so far-fetched that he was not listed among Wikipedia’s major declared candidates — he was instead relegated to a low bracket where he was positioned alongside perennial candidates like performance artist Vermin Supreme and businessman Rocky de la Fuente. Dismissing Yang as a long shot, I did not investigate him any further.

Fast forward two years, and I was approached by a largely apolitical friend who asked me about the political prospects of Andrew Yang. My friend had viewed a popular “Ask Me Anything” post by Yang on Reddit and was piqued by his unique proposals, which at the time included policies like the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI) and the switch to an online, ranked-choice voting system. In my infinite hubris, I downplayed Yang to my friend, relying on my now-outdated knowledge to definitively dismiss his chances at electoral success. Still, I was intrigued that years later, Yang was still in the race and apparently making waves on sites like Reddit, a trend frequently seen among political dark horses turned legitimate contenders.

With my attention now drawn to Yang, I turned to his Twitter, where I was surprised to find tweets addressing issues such as job loss due to automation and the decline in American life expectancy (a topic I covered in detail last Fall). Yang’s platforms were particularly intriguing because they existed largely outside of the standard Democratic orthodoxy. Following the link to his website, I headed to his highly extensive policy section, which has been described by some as incredibly detailed. I soon discovered that Yang’s various proposals are also as abundant as they are detailed. His website outlines plans for everything from autism intervention to paying NCAA student-athletes.

Naturally, my next maneuver was bringing up Yang to my brother, a left-leaning techie currently working in Silicon Valley. Coincidentally, it turned out, my brother helped with recruiting forhad been associated with Venture for America, Yang’s non-profit that had placed recent graduates and young professionals in startups across America, particularly in economically-challenged cities. Venture for America is notable because Yang’s experiences there motivated him to run for president. Having witnessed extensive job loss due to automation, particularly among the working class, Yang sought to find methods for alleviating this looming economic disaster. His three main solutions — universal basic income, Medicare-for-all and “human-centered” capitalism — have since become the central tenets of his campaign.

In the weeks following, Yang went from a complete non-factor to an internet phenomenon. In particular, his proposal for a $1,000-a-month UBI has garnered him a great degree of support from the online community, even among more problematic groups. Much like how Donald Trump’s early success in 2015 was, in part, driven by anonymous online meme-makers, Yang has enjoyed a surge of popularity from this same base. He has since surpassed the 65,000 donor mark necessary to make the Democratic debate stage in June, and his odds among online betting sites have skyrocketed to the point where he now frequently outranks establishment politicians like Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Despite having now secured his spot on the debate stage this summer, Yang remains unlikely to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Much like the insurgent campaign of Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the main goal of Yang’s campaign seems to be bringing new policy topics into the fold, in hopes that they can create greater publicity and potentially influence the frontrunners. But whereas Gabbard hopes to bring attention the topic of regime-change wars, Yang seeks to push the issues of automation and UBI to the forefront of the debate stage.

In spite of his present popularity, Yang faces several key electoral challenges. His lack of established Democratic support is likely to rob him of both liberal and moderate support, and his reliance on small donations may prove problematic as campaign expenses heat up come 2020. Furthermore, his history as an entrepreneur and his endorsement of free enterprise are likely to dissuade the party’s younger socialist wing, who may view Yang’s proposals as inadequate in fully addressing the inherent ills of capitalism. Still, Yang’s presence on the debate stage will bring a degree of political creativity that has been largely absent from modern dialogue, and we will all be better for it.

Written by: Brandon Jetter — brjetter@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


  1. The reliance on big donors is a catch-22 situation and could only be solved via Andrew’s proposed Democracy Money. If the current status quo continues, American will never embrace TRUE democracy but democracy controlled by big money.

  2. Great article, even if a bit dismissive. Don’t underestimate Andrew Yang. His base is growing daily by leaps and bounds. His rally in LA has been the largest so far, and even through the video feed you could feel the excitement. MSM might be dismissing him as a long shot, but I guarantee you that we are not.

  3. Yang is by far the most forwarding candidate in the past few decades. His many proposals will be able to touch and improve many many Americans daily lives. One of the rare quality I found from Yang is his unmatched ability to engage with audience, whether during interviews, rallies or other forms. This ability was something people ofter overlooked from Trump, which has won him popularity among everyday Americans. I hope that Yang can succeed all the way and bring the much needed POSITIVE changes to the nation we love.


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