Andrew Yang, the 44-year old entrepreneur who’s never run for any political office in his life, currently sits at 3% — 5th place in the sprawling Democratic field. Only Joe Biden and three high-profile senators are ahead of him.
How is this possible? Yang’s campaign is all about fear — fear of the near future where automation and artificial intelligence wreak havoc on the American economy. You might think this downer of a message would attract few votes.
But Yang delivers the message with a unique style that has won him converts. And he’s been successful enough in fundraising and polling to qualify for the third and fourth Democratic debates.
Yang is a 44-year-old entrepreneur from New York and a father of two young sons who’s never run for any office of any kind before this, and whose campaign is fueled by a deeply dystopian view of the near future (trucker riots, anybody?), a pillar of a platform that can come off as a gimmick (a thousand bucks a month for every American adult!), and a zeitgeisty swirl of podcasts, GIFs, tweets and memes. Last week, as a successful governor from a major state dropped out and the bottom half of the bloated field continued to flounder, Yang passed the 200,000 mark for unique donors—outpacing an array of name-known pols. He’s gotten contributions, on average $24 a pop, from 88 percent of the ZIP codes in the country, and he’s on track, he says, to raise twice as much money this quarter as he did last quarter.
Perhaps it’s not so much the message as it is Yang himself that is winning over Democratic voters:
At the heart of Yang’s appeal is a paradox. In delivering his alarming, existentially unsettling message of automation and artificial intelligence wreaking havoc on America’s economic, emotional and social well-being, he … cracks jokes. He laughs easily, and those around him, and who come to see him, end up laughing a lot, too. It’s not that Yang’s doing stump-speech stand-up. It’s more a certain nonchalant whimsy that leavens what he says and does. Sometimes his jokes fall flat. He can be awkward, but he also pointedly doesn’t appear to care. It’s weird, and it’s hard to describe, but I suspect that if Yang ever said something cringeworthy, as Jeb Bush did that time in 2016—“Please clap”—the audience probably would respond with mirth, not pity.
Yang is drawing big crowds in New Hampshire. Watching his delivery it’s not hard to figure out why. He is the anti-politician which has always played well in New Hampshire.
Yang answers the average voter’s desire for an outsider to ride in on a white charger and save us from a corrupt and cynical establishment. It’s effective. After all, it worked for Trump.
But Yang is no Trump. Trump’s populist message was hopeful and optimistic. Talking about our impending doom may be interesting, but few want to hear it.
Yang will stick around for a while. If necessary, he can self-fund. But I suspect that eventually, the novelty of his campaign will wear off and most will lose interest.