Despite (or thanks to) his total lack of political experience before this year’s Democratic primary, businessman and entrepreneur Andrew Yang continues to connect with voters and float a platform that resonates. His flagship plan of the “freedom dividend,” also know as a universal basic income, breeds intrigue and questions from voters about the prudency of the federal government handing out $1,000 checks every month to every adult, but Yang doesn’t back away from the challenge of selling such a plan to the American people.
Rather than fade away as an also-ran or a peripheral candidate, Yang has continued building a campaign slowly based on a series of good debate performances, and a brand of outside thinking that some voters genuinely want to see in politics.
Can Yang unseat Bernie?
As far as outsiders go, there is some overlap between Andrew Yang and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. They share a message of catering to working-class voters disaffected by job losses in manufacturing, but they go about proposing solutions in different ways.
However, as Politico reports, with Yang continuing to hold a spot on the debate stage, and Bernie’s support softening, there is a danger that this non-politician could become a new favorite for some of Sanders’ voters:
The intersection of Sanders and Yang supporters was highlighted last week when Sanders’ former ad firm — Devine, Mulvey and Longabaugh — signed on with Yang’s campaign. Mark Longabaugh, a partner at the company that produced Sanders’ famous “America” TV ad in 2016, told POLITICO that it chose Yang because “he’s offering the most progressive ideas.” The team had talks with at least one other presidential campaign about potentially working for it this cycle after splitting with Sanders earlier this year.
“He wants to transform the economy into an economy focused on people rather than corporate profits. That’s the sort of progressive bedrock candidate that we’re drawn to,” Longabaugh said. “Where a lot of candidates seem more negative and angry, I think Andrew comes to this displaying some optimism and a new way forward that could get this country to look to a new and better future.”
Yang may be a non-politician, but with years of successful entrepreneurial experience under his belt, he knows marketing and he knows how to use the internet and social media to connect with voters. Being an outsider in recent years has tended to pay better returns than hailing from the political class of the party establishment.
Some of Yang’s ideas are “progressive” in nature, merely by the way they approach the issues, but the overarching theme of Yang’s message is anti-establishment:
The Sanders-Yang overlap underscores another factor in the Democratic primary: While pundits frequently opine on “moderate” and “progressive” lanes, there’s also an “anti-establishment” lane in which Yang, Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson are jockeying for support.
Just as Sanders is no longer the sole progressive in the race like he was in 2016, he isn’t the only anti-establishment contender anymore, either. Sanders seems to acknowledge as much.
The truth is that Tulsi Gabbard probably isn’t going much further, and Marianne Williamson also seems to have hit the end of the road. The only anti-establishment candidates left in the race are Warren, Sanders, and Yang. That trifecta will be tough to crack for Yang since Warren has been on the upswing and seems better-positioned to carry that lane moving forward.
Yang for Vice President?
If winning the nomination doesn’t work out, there is a lot of data to support practically any major Democrat selecting Yang as a solid vice presidential choice. One thing that Yang has going for him is sheer likability. He connects with voters by explicitly not talking down to them, which is a trait that many politicians tend to suffer from:
According to recent [Business] Insider polling, Yang has the highest net support out of all the 2020 Democratic candidates among undecided general election voters who are considering voting for either party’s nominee.
Out of the 268 undecided voters who knew of Yang, 46% would be satisfied with him as the nominee and 24% would not be satisfied, giving him positive net support of 21 percentage points, due to rounding error, among general election voters.
Beyond the primary, Democrats will be looking toward how their ticket can appeal broadly in the general election. President Trump will be playing to his rust belt and Midwest base, and working hard in swing states. Some Democrats believe Joe Biden is the antidote to Trump’s advances, but what if Biden can’t make it happen? Is Yang a better option in the Midwest, for example?
Writing at Business Insider, conservative columnist Karol Markowicz says she could live with Yang as president when compared to the rest of the Democratic field because of the way he approaches issues and doesn’t consider himself rabidly partisan. Markowicz says she disagrees with Yang’s freedom dividend plan, but it’s the way he explains things and relates to people that makes him different:
What Yang has — which so many of the other Democratic candidates lack — is a real perspective that the US is not actually divided into left and right. Yang isn’t on the stage to take from some people and give to others. Even his UBI would pay the same $1,000 to everyone, whether they need it or not. He’s not there to sow resentment or to insult half the country.
It may also be that same trait that some conservatives appreciate that some progressives in the Democratic primary similarly don’t appreciate. Yang may be “too nice” for politics in 2019. It’s a cutthroat sport, as observers learned while watching Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton battle in 2016.
Yang is less ideological than his opponents on the debate stage, which connects with certain segments of the electorate, but it also turns some off as well.
Yang has earned himself a spot on the debate stage in November, but he may fall short in December depending on how his polls pan out. Either way, by hiring Bernie’s 2016 ad firm, and continuing to build support, he stands as good a chance as anyone on the stage of fighting on all the way to the Iowa Caucuses next year.