Andrew Yang and his unconventional strategy to win the Democratic nomination

The first caucuses are just around the corner and you might find it surprising, but Andrew Yang is still in the 2020 race. An entrepreneur and philanthropist, he never jumped to double digits in the polling, steadily tailing top Democratic candidates throughout this election cycle. He didn’t qualify for the last Democratic debate and the media rarely spoiled him with their favorable attention.

And yet, Yang’s campaign proved to be very durable, outliving campaigns of other seasoned politicians who dropped out of the race after financial struggles. Andrew Yang drew nearly 1200 people in his last rally in Iowa; the ballroom couldn’t fit all of his supporters, some gathered in the hallways just to listen to a man who claims to have effective solutions to the same problems Donald Trump campaigned on. And the only question is on anyone’s mind: what is his plan to win the prize every presidential hopeful has the eyes on?

If you never heard about Andrew Yang until he started making headlines with his ambitious proposal to give every citizen $1000 a month, don’t worry, you’re not alone. He was not a politician that can run on name recognition alone. Yang was a businessman with just a few successful projects that made him a millionaire. He sold his Manhattan Prep company that focused on test preparations before founding Venture for America, a nonprofit organization that helps growing small start-ups into mature sustainable businesses. “My goal was to enlist hundreds of talented young builders to become entrepreneurs and leaders in growth companies to create new jobs and opportunities around the country,” said Yang in his letter when he stepped down from CEO position in 2017.

He continues to apply this vision in his campaign, highlighting the fact that automation eating up more jobs that America creates. “My organization was helping to create jobs, but automation was displacing tens of thousands of workers…We were pouring water into a bathtub with a giant hole ripped in the bottom,” Yang opined on the pages of the New York Times. He didn’t shy away from mentioning the fact that swing states that lost many manufacturing jobs voted for Trump in 2016. And that’s where he proposes a different from other politicians approach: to invest $1000 in every adult in America “instead of blaming the current occupant of the Oval Office.”

It’s a very bold proposal that can attract a lot of supporters, but it will not win the Presidency, let alone the Democratic nomination. The idea behind Yang’s “Freedom Dividend” program is to incentivize people to look for better jobs without fear of losing income, invest in their own businesses, reduce financial insecurity by covering basic needs, and subsequently grow the economy. In short, Andrew Yang proposes implementing Universal Basic Income funded by a 10% value-added tax.

However, some skeptics raised doubts about whether this value-added tax can fully fund the “Freedom Dividend.” An economist Kyle Pomerleau concluded that numbers simply don’t add up and would require either higher taxes, or smaller dividends, or both. Some voters also find this program too good to be true, and they leave to back a traditional candidate that spent some time in politics. This usually entails talks about the expansion of immigration, universal healthcare, cancellation of student debt, climate change, and, most importantly, heavy criticism of Donald Trump in every speech.

The latter is rarely heard from Yang. Just two days ago in Des Moines, he asked his supporters to applaud those, who voted for Trump in 2016, something that is hard to imagine at Biden’s or Bernie’s rally. He already peeled off some conservative voters and continues to lure away Democrats who are interested in new ideas. Yang positions himself on “Not Left, not Right, Forward,” which sounds appealing to a large group of people that is weary from Republican and Democratic establishment’s everlasting fight that shifts the blame from one to another. And perhaps, this is a strategy in and of itself. Yang Gang, as he calls his supporters, share his confidence that he has a shot at winning. “I’m the man to beat Donald Trump, and the last people that are going to realize it are going to be the Democrats who’ve been looking for the best candidate to take him on. But I think more and more are realizing that they’re looking at him right now,” he said Yang.

Andrew Yang, founder of Venture for America and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, high fives a supporter during a campaign rally in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Yang, dubbed the ‘internet candidate’ by some, has developed a relatively niche following because of his platform that touts the merits of universal basic income. Photographer: Mark Abramson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s too early to say if his gamble will secure Yang the nomination. As a Democrat, he promises to tackle major issues Americans face, such as costly health care, immigration, mass incarceration, education among others. And some solutions and promises are indistinguishable from those espoused by career politicians.  However, his focus on an unorthodox approach and vocal acknowledgment that Trump’s victory in 2016 was a symptom rather than a problem, can bring dividends very soon. So far it allowed him to steadily maintain his place in the polls for longer than others.

And what is more interesting, it created a large group of supporters that won’t support anyone else: Emerson College poll conducted in January showed that 42% of Yang’s voters will not support another candidate if he is not the nominee. “We think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” said Yang in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. And Monday night will show if he’s right.