Don’t Underestimate Andrew Yang

Just under two years ago, on Nov. 6, 2017, an Asian-American entrepreneur from New York announced his bid for the presidency. His name recognition was microscopic: he was constantly coming in at one to two percent in the polls, receiving the least media coverage out of any candidate. He was also championing a radical idea: $1,000 a month to every American citizen over the age of 18. 

Fast forward through over a year of intense online support and a different picture is beginning to appear. For starters, Yang easily qualified for the second round of debates on Sept. 12 – a task that half of the Democratic pool failed to do. 

Yang opened his night with a promise to give out a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month for a year to ten American families. Many journalists, including writers for the New York Times, angrily called this a cheap gimmick. But this view at best ignores—if not fundamentally misunderstands—the one thing Andrew Yang needs more than anything else: name recognition. 

Yang’s giveaway is not about tricking people and buying their votes—it’s simply about getting people to listen. With a radical idea and limited coverage, this is an exceptionally challenging thing to do. 

But Yang’s actions on the debate stage did just that, because in the immediate 72 hours after the debate, Yang’s campaigned received over $1,000,000 in donations and 450,000 email sign-ups. This is an unprecedented surge in momentum for his campaign and the results are showing up elsewhere too. A new Emerson poll in California shows Yang polling at seven percent, coming in 4th place—ahead of Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris (in her home state!)

Furthermore, in another set of Emerson polling conducted across September 6-9, Yang beat Trump by eight points—second only to Biden, who held a nine point lead. Yang is also shown to be one of two democratic candidates pulling 10 percent or more of former Trump voters—a strong indicator of his bipartisan appeal that has been central to his campaign.

As of Sept. 17, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Yang polling at four percent, nationally. While this number may seem quite small, it represents a remarkable increase in support, especially for his low name recognition. In fact, it is hard to overstate how much potential Yang’s campaign has at this stage. 

He has an incredibly motivated base with a massive online presence, a bold, intriguing platform and a shockingly fresh feel. Having been cast as an outsider and underdog for so long, Yang’s campaign has far more potential to snowball and explode into the national spotlight than any other candidate in the field. 

In many ways, I believe Yang is everything that people hoped for when they voted for Trump in 2016. He is addressing the hurt of the middle class, but rather than blaming it on immigrants, he raises an issue that no other campaign is highlighting: automation. Yang does not dodge questions on how to pay for his programs like life-long politicians, or make outrageous promises like“Mexico will pay for it.” 

Everywhere you look, facts, statistics and science are behind his proposals. Yang does not preach about hate, division and turning back the clock. He speaks of changing the way we view the economy, so that we can evaluate the things we actually value, such as our children, mental health, and environmental cleanliness. 

Finally, Yang is not motivated by the narcissistic impulses of Donald Trump; he is motivated by genuine fear of what is coming for our country; and the idea of what he will leave behind for his two young kids. 

While it is certainly debatable whether the United States really wants another president without political experience, it is worth considering that Yang may be a rare solution that could unite more than half of the country. His vision for human-centered capitalism and a universal basic income are changes that someday, down the line, we will have to undertake, even if they don’t happen today. 

Yang is trying to strike a balance that shifts the political agenda of the country to the left while not ignoring or even victimizing the millions of citizens who voted for Trump in 2016. As his campaign says, “It’s not left, it’s not right, it’s forward.”