“Not left not right but forward” is one of the many slogans for Andrew Yang’s campaign alongside “Humanity first” and many other great one-liners. One of the first candidates to announce they were running for the Democrat’s nomination for President. He came into the race with very little name recognition and virtually no support in polling. To come as far as he did with the current average polling putting him in sixth place with a 3% average is amazing. And we will continue to see Yang in the next two debates and perhaps even longer.
Is he important?
Well, this is a more complicated answer than it might seem. I don’t think Yang will be the candidate that wins the Democrat’s primary election. However, I think his impact will be much greater than just that of a presidential nominee. By talking about issues that we either haven’t heard in a long time, such as the idea of a universal basic income, or by bringing attention to a real problem that will impact the future of the United States, such as the increase of automation in the workforce, Yang will likely help to shape the future of the Democratic party. Many questions are being asked to the other candidates focusing on Yang’s key policy issues showing the support that Yang has not only raised for himself but for his issues. I equate his effect on the Democratic party to how Green Parties affected the political sphere in many countries. Green Parties began driving attention towards environmental issues in the 70s and 80s when the environment wasn’t a primary focus of political parties in many countries. Upon gaining significant support, many left-leaning parties encompassed environmental issues within their policies. This will be the same effect that Yang will have on the Democratic party; the Democrats will begin to focus more on some of the issues that had previously been unique to Yang, but that are becoming important issues among voters. I believe the longer this primary goes the more attention Yang will get, especially with his followers dubbed the “Yang Gang” being one of the most active supporters on social media. This means that his ideas will only continue to get greater support among the people and that his opponents will need to talk about Yang and his revolutionary ideas to grow support within the party.
There have been some criticisms of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, for allowing the primaries to go on with candidates like Yang because of their niche support (this article by Noah Berlatsky explains more in-depth). I largely disagree with what the article brings up about the DNC restricting who can run for president within their party to prevent bad actors from getting nominations and slimming the field by either enforcing a rule of having to previously held public office or worse be vetted by the parties national committee. This would throw back the presidential nominee back to a time where only the party elites decided who would run and then the rest of us get to decide between 4 marginally different candidates. This, however, would destroy not only the democratic process of allowing the people’s choice for who they want for the Democrat’s nominee for President but also would limit the realignment of parties. Over time, most political parties realign their policies according to public support for certain issues, which has happened many times to both parties. And this has been due to the democratic process and the people’s support of one candidate or multiple candidates that have endorsed issues that were not discussed in the public sphere or if they were they never gained trajection until the “fringe” candidate brought public attention to it. Yang is one of the candidates with “controversial” views. Yang might not be a major candidate, but with his push for universal basic income, the public’s support of UBI has increased drastically since he has been running, which could be a precursor to the Democratic party adopting UBI as a key running issue in elections. Candidates like Yang are crucial to these realignments, and these realignments allow the public to give their opinions on policies to the elected officials who are sometimes out of touch with what the general public wants and needs. Not only do Yang and candidates like him change the talking points in elections, but they also allow for the public to feel like they have a voice. That’s why candidates like Yang have such vocal supporters; they are giving a voice to people that feel they have been left out by the Democrat’s primary process before.
Leaving candidates like Yang out of the political process isn’t the answer to the problem of bad actors running for office. All candidates should be allowed in the democratic process because that’s what makes it democratic. Allowing these candidates to be on the debate stage and in the primaries causes faster change and a more accurate understanding of what the public wants. Leaving Yang out of the primary process would just silence voices that have already been silent for too long