Andrew Yang: The ‘Asian math guy’ trying to be next US president
The success of Andrew Yang has been one of the unexpected sub-plots of the 2020 presidential race. And his fan base is surely one of the most devoted.
What’s the opposite of Donald Trump?
The answer, says 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, is himself – “an Asian guy who’s good at math”.
With a $1,000-a-month universal basic income proposal, a pessimistic outlook of economic havoc and a self-deprecating humour, Yang has mounted a surprising surge.
Politically unknown when he started the campaign, he now enjoys a devoted internet following known as the “Yang Gang” and the honourable title of “meme king” among the Democratic presidential candidates.
The 44-year-old tech entrepreneur centres his campaign on “Freedom Dividend”, a proposal to provide every American over the age of 18 $1,000 every month with no strings attached.
Yang warns that automation and Artificial Intelligence could take away nearly half of American jobs in the next three decades, and he believes that universal basic income can help ease the pain and solve various social problems. His ambitious plan may sound too good to be true, drawing laughs from his fellow candidates on the debate stage, but Yang says that he has “looked at the numbers”.
His support in national polls hovers around 3%, which places him behind the top tier of candidates but above vastly experienced senators like Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar.
Yang is fulfilling his “Make America Think Harder” campaign slogan by stoking a national conversation about the threat Artificial Intelligence poses to American jobs.
At a Yang rally in Washington DC, hundreds of supporters passionately shouted out his name and held up “MATH” signs, abbreviation of his campaign line. The crowd were mostly white and Asian, slightly more male and very young.
“One state has adopted a dividend. Everyone in that state gets one or two thousand dollars a year. Which state is that?” Yang asked, pointing at the crowd.
“Alaska!” A large portion of the crowd yelled back. It was still relatively early in the presidential race, but Yang’s loyal supporters had memorised his lines.
“And how did they fund it?”
“Oil!” Since 1982, Alaska has paid an annual dividend to every person living in Alaska from the state-owned investment fund funded by oil revenue.
“And what’s the oil of the 21st century?” Yang cued his supporters again.
With a satisfied smile, Yang said what Alaska did with oil money can be done nationwide through his universal basic income plan with “technology money”, a value-added tax on the big tech companies.
Among the crowd in the rally were 19-year-old Jalen Adams and 18-year-old Emily Synoski, who travelled three hours from Delaware for the event. Ms Synoski tells BBC News that she and many of her generation support Yang because he focuses on the future, in which young people have the most at stake.
“We will be the ones working in this country when automation becomes big.”
Support from this social media-savvy generation has also boosted Yang’s online popularity. Since the first Democratic primary debate, Yang has gained more Twitter followers than any other candidates.
“I make sure every one of my friends would hear about Andrew Yang,” says Mr Adams.
Some of the online support is not the kind that Yang is happy to gain. His warning about mass unemployment caused by automation resonates with the far right, who see him as sympathetic to the plight of blue-collar white Americans.