International Policy Digest

Gage Skidmore
Politics /30 Dec 2020
12.30.20

Andrew Yang Takes on Big Apple Politics

When it comes to the newly announced mayoral campaign of Andrew Yang, I’m just anticipating the memes that it will create. Zoomer humor aside, I think that it could prove to be a bellwether race for the Progressive Left in America if Yang can win, or at least keep the race competitive.

Andrew Yang, in the first mayoral primary poll to include him, courtesy of Slingshot Strategies, topped the field at 17%. Much more impressively and importantly, Andrew Yang was the most popular 2nd-choice candidate and was tied for first as the 3rd and 4th-choice candidates. This matters for a couple of reasons. Firstly, NYC has ranked-choice voting, which means that being the most popular 2nd-choice candidate can be as important, if not more so, than being the most popular 1st-choice. Since it is essentially impossible for a candidate in such a crowded primary (19 people besides Andrew Yang have officially entered the primary) to win outright, winning the 2nd or 3rd round of ranked-choice voting will generally be needed to advance to the general election.

Yang’s opponents are widely unpopular. The two candidates right behind him in the Slingshot poll are career politician Scott Stringer, who couldn’t even beat a relatively unknown Bill de Blasio in 2012 to replace the retiring Michael Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Christine Quinn and Max Rose, who are fairly well known locally, are polling at 7% and 3%, respectively. Several other lesser-known candidates are polling in the single digits. This doesn’t paint a complete statistical picture. Andrew Yang is also crushing it in terms of net favorability, at +44. All of his opponents’ net favorability ratings trail by double digits. In terms of candidates with “very favorable” esteem amongst poll respondents, Yang also dominated the pack, at 22%. Stringer was closest behind, at 18%, while 5 candidates were at <13%.

In a more recently released poll on Dec 21, courtesy of Public Policy Polling, Yang retained the lead with 17%, while Eric Adams polled at 16%. Everyone else trailed Yang by double digits. Sadly, this poll didn’t factor in ranked-choice voting. Encouragingly for Yang, respondents listed as their “most important issue” not related to COVID as “improving wages and creating more jobs.” Yang ran for president with increasing worker income as his central policy platform and used to run Venture for America, a nonprofit devoted to job creation.

In regards to Eric Adams specifically, he may be running at the most politically inopportune time. As a former police captain vying to win over progressive Democrats in a city that has, over the past year, been repeatedly wracked by massive anti-police brutality protests that ironically ended in police brutality, he may not fly among the kinds of voters who want to defund the police and end all officer-evictions of residential tenants. It doesn’t help that over half the city’s population is Black or Latino, the two ethnic groups with the most historic distrust of the criminal justice system, and that these two ethnicities are disproportionately much more likely to vote in the Democratic, as opposed to Republican, primaries.

Another X-factor could be what I would call an “Asian Obama Effect,” wherein Yang energizes an Asian constituency that has been continually underrepresented in city politics and subject to outright racism, which has recently been exacerbated by the xenophobic fear of what Trump has called the “Kung-Flu” and the “Chinese Virus.” Anti-Asian hate crimes have spiked so much in America’s most diverse major city that the NYPD created an Asian Hate Crime Task Force in October. Locally, there has also been a huge uproar in the Asian community in regards to the Board of Education’s affirmative action measures. Such measures have been widely perceived as having had a bias against Asian students.

In a city whose population has only grown by 2% this decade, much of the growth can be attributed to Asian immigrants. The city’s Caucasian population has fallen by half since the 1950s. NYC’s Black population only increased by .5% over this current decade; the Asian population, by contrast, has grown by 14.3% during the same stretch. Only the city’s Latino population has grown faster. NYC’s Asian population is disproportionately composed of immigrants. Recent immigration trends have shifted from green-card-holder-relatives’ visas to immediate-relatives-of-U.S.-citizens visas. This means that immigrants, on average, have been acquiring citizenship and thus voting rights faster than in the past. Enthusiasm for Yang amongst the Asian diaspora could activate many first-time voters and lead to him outperforming his poll numbers, since these previously unregistered voters won’t be fully represented, if at all, in polling data.

The Yang Gang capo’s political ethos is very diverse (or vague) on issues ranging from social justice and the social safety net, to economic reform. In the presidential primaries, his political views received little scrutiny because he was polling in the single digits. As a front-runner in a much smaller race, Yang will finally be forced to account for his beliefs and the feasibility of his ambitious policies. So there’s a good chance he’ll alienate a major NYC constituency (SJWs, progressives, centrists). The media tried to disingenuously link Andrew Yang to white supremacy during his presidential campaign. That alone could wreck his chances with SJW Democratic voters, in a Twitter-headline, post-truth era. On the other hand, the COVID/economic crisis that was grossly exacerbated by Mayor Bill de Blasio could compel New Yorkers to take a chance on a charismatic political outsider touting big ideas.

When it comes to the prospect of Yang winning or at least losing in a photo finish, I don’t think it much matters whether or not he is a “true progressive.” His signature policy, UBI, is generally considered to be progressive. Yang’s proposed implementation of UBI would receive the plurality of its funding from a value-added tax (VAT) (as opposed to a wealth tax or a capital gains tax), which the French Yellow Vest movement protested against for disproportionately affecting poor people.

Thus, I would argue that Yang’s UBI plan isn’t progressive. However, his UBI plan will never be passed, but seeing a candidate touting UBI and winning the largest mayoral position in the country will embolden proponents of a more progressive version of UBI and people fighting for other bold issues, like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. It would move the Overton window, in terms of the public discourse and how voters assess candidates. Most importantly, it would help to break the perception that Democrats can only win by running centrist campaigns that are full of nothing but platitudes and a commitment to maintaining the crumbling status quo. Yang, even in his more centrist positions, always speaks using the progressive terms of lowering the power imbalance between the poor and the wealthy, and of using government initiative to spearhead change.

Republican politicians since at least the dawning of the Tea Party movement have shown that you can get elected without adhering to reality, let alone political correctness. Trump was the most glaring example of this. During his insurgent 2016 presidential campaign, he embraced the fervor of the GOP’s far-right base, rather than the finger-wagging of the centrist Republican establishment in Washington. Subsequently, many Republicans have gotten elected by riding Trump’s coattails or by embracing the QAnon movement, oftentimes by beating centrist Republicans in primaries. Progressives can copy this formula for success by running on platforms that are popular not just with Democrats, but with the public as a whole. In the 2020 general election, ballot measures like raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana passed in states like Montana and Florida, which the Democrats narrowly lost. Embracing these popular progressive policies can lead to a turnaround for Democrats, who in 2020 lost seats in the House and failed to win a 51-seat majority in the Senate, despite the fact that Republicans helped to wreck the economy and kill nearly 350,000 Americans through their worst-in-the-world bungling of the COVID crisis.

Andrew Yang, the man with 1.8 million Twitter followers and national name recognition, could be well on his way to winning the attention of voters, then their support, and then finally the NYC mayoral race. The national repercussions of a genuine political outsider winning the mayor’s seat in 2021 in a city (home to Tammany Hall) that for centuries has been wracked by the inertia of machine politics could be huge, especially in the leadup to the 2022 Congressional elections. Americans grew to be historically restless during the historic incompetence of the Trump years.

With 4 years of a man who’s spent his entire career on maintaining the status quo in the White House and at least 2 years of a Senate that lacks the Democratic numbers to pass any bill that’s remotely controversial on the horizon (not to mention the likelihood of the Republicans taking back the House in 2022), discontent will continue to simmer in the country. Not helping the case of the status quo will be the fact that tens of millions of Americans will continue to suffer the economic aftereffects of the COVID recession for many years to come. The Republican Party has already permanently tilted towards QAnon, and vaccine denialists. The centrist Democratic hold on power can’t last much longer. Either people like Andrew Yang will start to reorient the Party in a more progressive direction, or the Democrats will lose 1,000 seats as they did during the Obama years.