so you want to be president

Who Is Andrew Yang, and Why Do the Gen-Z Kids Love Him?

Andrew Yang.
Andrew Yang. Photo: JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images

We’re more than a year-and-a-half out from the next presidential election and the race is already incredibly crowded, and with more than a handful of prominent politicians with recognizable names, like senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris. And then, there’s Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur with a meme-loving — and growing — base comprised of many young people, but also of denizens of 4chan and far-right individuals who believe that Yang is worried about the white birth rate. (Yang has denounced this last group.)

When Yang first launched his 2020 presidential bid in late 2017, no one took him seriously. But today, some polls and pundits are giving him better odds than candidates like Gillibrand and congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Curious about the #YangGang, or maybe even his platform? (He wants to give you $1,000 a month.)

Below, here’s what we know about the 2020 Democratic candidate.

First of all: Who is Andrew Yang?

He’s a lawyer-turned-tech dude who most recently launched the nonprofit Venture for America, which seeks to revitalize Rust Belt cities by encouraging entrepreneurs to move there and start businesses. Oh, and he’s running for president.

Yang filed to run way back on November 6, 2017, and in February 2018, he spoke to the New York Times about his platform — which, as the paper notes, is the only one with a focus on “the robot apocalypse.”

He wants to give every adult $1,000 a month.

At the center of Yang’s platform is the Freedom Dividend, which is a form of universal basic income (UBI), a somewhat bipartisan concept that has become a favorite of many entrepreneurs. (Hi, Mark Zuckerberg.) In an attempt to weather the aforementioned robot apocalypse, which Yang believes is impending, everyone over the age of 18 would receive $1,000 a month.

“All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society,” he told the Times, adding that, in a few years, “we’re going to have a million truck drivers out of work who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or one year of college … And we’re about to do the same thing to retail workers, call center workers, fast-food workers, insurance companies, accounting firms.” He believes UBI is the best solution to these problems, which he thinks must be solved in order to beat Trump.

“We have to solve the problems that got Donald Trump elected in 2016,” Yang told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week. “And to me the main driver of his victory was that we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, the swing states he needed to win.”

Other than his UBI, Yang also supports many of the big progressive issues — Medicare for all, legalized marijuana, paid parental leave, reparations (in some form) — as well as some more obscure policies, such as his American Mall Act, which would revitalize shuttered malls. He’s also a proponent of what he has come to call “human-centered capitalism,” as opposed to, say, socialism.

He has also come out on Twitter as personally opposed to circumcision, a stance he later discussed with the Daily Beast at length. He says he’s “highly aligned with the intactivists,” which refers to the cohort of people who believe that doctors should never cut off a penis’ foreskin, comparing it to removing a male baby’s finger or lips. Were Yang to be elected president, he says he would support initiatives to inform parents they don’t need to get their infants circumcised for health reasons.

He’s also … how should I say … Very Online.

The man loves a meme.

On April 10, Yang took his digital presence to a whole new level when he debuted a 3D hologram of himself giving a duet performance with a hologram of his “hero,” Tupac, on TMZ Live. Though he hasn’t committed to anything yet, Yang is thinking of using it for remote campaigning in places like “Iowa or other battleground states.”

His followers love his online presence.

Lots of teens enthusiastically support his campaign, and also love making memes about him. Meet the #YangGang.

But aside from teens, he’s also caught the attention of some disillusioned Trump voters, white nationalists, and 4channers, all of whom appear to be drawn to Yang over his promise to give them $1,000 a month, and the fact that he’s not a politician by nature, in the same way that Trump isn’t. Many seem to see him as a guy who wants to do things differently within our broken system. His supporters have also cherry-picked his quotes and parts of his platform to argue that his values align with theirs. For example, his tweet about the opioid crisis that mentioned declining white birth rates — a major concern among white nationalists — has been held up as evidence that he supports their agenda. Soon after, his tweet about being anti-circumcision elicited a similar positive response from right-wingers. “Holy shit,” a 4Chan user wrote, per the Daily Beast. “A candidate actually redpilled on circumcision?”

This base started to grow after Yang went on the Joe Rogan Experience, and later Tucker Carlson Tonight; over the past few weeks, the Verge reports 4chan’s /pol/ forum became a toxic hotbed for racist, pro-Yang memes. (In one particular anti-Semitic meme, he is reportedly shown taking money for a Jewish banker to redistribute the wealth.) Additionally, some prominent alt-right figures like Faith Goldy and Richard Spencer have tweeted in support of his ideas, though they haven’t officially endorsed him.

But Yang isn’t thrilled that he’s attracted this far-right cohort. In a statement to the Verge, Yang said that he views “racism and white nationalism as a threat to the core ideals of what it means to be an American,” and denounced “hatred, bigotry, racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and the alt-right in all its many forms.”

Okay but really: Should we take him seriously?

Is this man going to be the next president? Almost certainly not. However, it is notable that in some polls, people are giving him better odds than veteran politicians like Kirsten Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard, and Pete Buttigieg. But at the same time, the presidential race is already incredibly crowded.

Across just February and March, Yang raised $1.7 million, and in total has received donations from more than 80,000 people — that means he’ll be partaking in the first Democratic debate.

This post has been updated and corrected to show that Yang is not anti-automation, as a previous version stated.

Who Is Andrew Yang and Why Do the Gen-Z Kids Love Him?