A 33-year-old from Kansas City hitched a ride from a friend in St. Louis to stand in the cold and rain for more than four hours to meet Andrew Yang and experience Yangapalooza this past Friday.
Yangapalooza featured several hours of live entertainment from Chef Zoot, Weezer and others. More than 1,200 people showed up in downtown Des Moines to rock out before the event turned into a political spectacle.
Yang, a New York-based entrepreneur and Democratic presidential candidate, delivered a fiery speech peppered with some colorful, yet uplifting language before his legions of followers marched with him to the largest Democratic event of the year.
The Yang-themed festival was a first for Jessie Hart, the Missouri man from Kansas City. He had never been to a political event in Iowa before. He doesn’t have the money to make the three-hour trip by himself.
He’s also never voted.
“This will be my first time voting,” Hart said. “I was going to vote last cycle for [Donald] Trump, but I did not register.”
Hart is exactly the kind of voter Yang is after.
“We all know this campaign is attracting disaffected Trump voters,” Yang shouted to the Yangapalooza crowd from stage. “The fact is that disaffected Trump voters count double.”
Because “disaffected” Republican voters won’t support Trump and instead would vote for a Democrat, Yang figured they deserved to be counted twice.
With help from the former Republicans, Independents and Libertarians that Yang has been able to attract, the candidate supposed he could build a much broader coalition to beat Trump in 2020 than anyone else in the field.
Hart said he nearly voted for Trump in 2016 because “he was pulling on the triggers in my mind that I had been told for so many years; immigrants taking jobs and just all of it.”
“Trump said, ‘I’m a businessman and I’m going to fix everything,'” Hart said. “And after some things that happened in Kansas City — layoffs and nearly being homeless a couple of times, I didn’t really feel like [former president Barack Obama] was fixing anything and it was time to support somebody who may actually fix things.”
Hart, who essentially jumped from one businessman to another, said he was distrustful of “career politicians.”
“They’re in it for the game,” Hart said, of those who stick around D.C. “With too many of them I feel like they just don’t care. They want to win, or they want to be president, or they just want the media coverage.”
An Aspiring Public Servant
Many of Yang’s supporters are attracted to him for a simple reason: he seems like a normal guy.
William March, a 20-year-old Iowa State University student from Cedar Rapids, said he liked Yang’s way of speaking.
“I adore the fact that he’s not afraid to openly swear,” March said. “At Yangapalooza, he openly swore. I love that because that’s how I speak. That’s how a human speaks.
“All other politicians, they use sort of more Orwellian rhetoric and use wasteful words in their conversations, like filler words,” March said. “He doesn’t. He cuts to the chase and he tells you what it is.”
March identified as a Democrat because that’s how he was raised, but said he doesn’t want to vote for a candidate who would waste his tax dollars. Efficiency and expediency are two things he’s after in a president.
At first, March thought Yang’s Universal Basic Income proposal to provide every adult in the United States with $1,000 per month was “super socialist.”
“It kind of turned me off,” he said.
His friend Thomas Maloney, a fellow 20-year-old Iowa State student from Illinois, explained it actually was a capitalist idea.
“Markets function really well when people have money,” Maloney, who also attended Yangapalooza, said.
Maloney started researching Yang after one of his more conservative friends said he really liked him.
“I looked at his policies and I decided I should probably do this for the rest of the candidates, but a lot of them didn’t have as many or as detailed plans, and then I found some YouTube videos and he does really well in some of the long-form interviews, which is what really got me,” Maloney said. “It was kind of refreshing to hear a politician answering questions.
“That’s what I appreciated, is that if I ask him a question, he would absolutely be able to answer,” he said.
Maloney wasn’t involved in politics in the past. Even though he was too young to vote in the last presidential election, Maloney tried to find someone to be engaged with, but said, “there wasn’t really anyone that excited me or that I could feel like I agreed with on a lot of issues.”
“And it also felt like none of them were actually solving the issues that we were really going to face,” Maloney said.
He thought Yang succeeds in attracting young voters across the political spectrum because he doesn’t demonize people who don’t agree with him on everything.
“He doesn’t resort to utilizing identity politics and it doesn’t feel like he tries to push anyone away,” Maloney said. “He gives off an aura that he’s just trying to solve the problem.”
Both Maloney and Hart said they appreciated Yang’s approach to politics — to get in and get out.
At Yangapalooza, Yang said he doesn’t “have a particular interest in squatting in D.C. like a giant spider trying to feed myself.”
“I don’t care about any of that stuff,” Yang said. “I just want to get in there and solve the problems for us and seal it up before I leave and get on out of there.”
The two college students believed Yang.
“He’s going to get in, do the job, and then go, because that’s truly what the president should do,” Hart said. “That’s what every civil servant should do. They’re called civil servants for a reason. They’re there to serve us.”
Candidacy Attracts First-Timers
Andrea Kalvig, a 38-year-old mom from Waukee, had never volunteered for a political campaign before this year.
She stepped up when Yang came calling because he “has ideas that are for our current and future problems.”
“He’s not just addressing problems that have been hobbling us for years and years, he’s looking to the future, and it’s changing so fast and he’s in a unique position to understand that,” Kalvig said. “I’ve never been involved in a campaign before. I’ve never donated or canvassed or anything, but he just speaks directly to all of the issues that my family faces everyday, and I see my children’s future and how it could be with him versus how it could be with other candidates.
“It’s just night and day,” she said. “I’m doing this for my kids’ future.”
Kalvig decided to get involved in Yang’s campaign because he doesn’t have the media coverage provided to other candidates.
“I just needed to get out there and tell people who he is because as soon as someone sees a YouTube clip of him, they are obsessed,” Kalvig said. “If he lands in your YouTube feed, you are never going to watch anything but Andrew Yang until the election.”
This election also will be filled with firsts for Adam Wince, a 17-year-old from West Des Moines. 2020 will be the first year he can caucus and vote.
He will vote for whoever the Democratic nominee is come the general election next November, but for now, Yang resonates with this young voter.
“In my opinion, the presidency is more about how the individual represents the country than actual policy, just because of checks and balances,” Wince said. “So far, Yang is the only one who hasn’t said anything factually wrong at the base level, so I think he would be the best.”
What’s Unique About Yang
Alex Buckingham, a 28-year-old from the Des Moines suburbs, described himself as a “curious learner.”
He hasn’t decided who he wanted to support yet, so he’s doing his research. He has heard a lot of good things about Yang, so he stopped by Yang’s Liberty and Justice Celebration after-party at West End Salvage.
Bukckingham has found many Yang supporters agree with much of what Sen. Bernie Sanders has to say, but “maybe they want someone who is willing to move the conversation a little bit further.”
“Maybe they’re looking for a younger voice or a different voice,” Buckingham said. “He’s also attracting people who recognize the concern with automation, because he’s one of the few campaigns that does a lot to address that.”
The self-described Independent who usually votes with the left and does plan to caucus, said Yang can attract out-of-the-box voters because he “talks about the things other candidates don’t.”
“He actually really would bring a different paradigm to the table,” Buckingham said. “He doesn’t push away the people who are tired of the general Democratic paradigm.”
A Caucus Night Surprise?
Yang’s supporters certainly know him well.
When he took the stage at the LJ on Friday night, he stuck to his typical stump speech, but what made Yang stand out was his cheering section.
The people sitting in Yang’s seats inside of the huge arena finished several of his sentences and quickly answered many of his questions.
“The U.S. House of Representatives passed it [a universal basic income] in 1971 and 11 years later one state passed a dividend where now everyone in that state gets between $1,000 and $2,000 a year, no questions asked. And what state is that?” Yang asked.
“Alaska!” his supporters cheered back.
“And how does Alaska pay for it?” Yang asked.
“Oil!” the crowd chanted.
Yang did ask one question no one knew the answer to: “How is a man you never heard of eight months ago speaking after Joe Biden and before Elizabeth Warren?”
There have been some guesses.
Yang’s popularity could have been bolstered solely by social media. That’s where the so-called “Yang Gang” was born. An interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast earlier this year has also been credited with significantly boosting his visibility.
Perhaps his numbers were driven upward when he announced at the September debate he would give $1,000 to 10 random people every month for a year.
Or, maybe, there’s more to his campaign than the gimmicks.
“I really do like a lot of Yang’s ideas,” Buckingham, the undecided Iowan, said. “Especially his unapologetic push of the Universal Basic Income, the Freedom Dividend.
“I think that’s a really progressive idea,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense. We need to be able to address automation because it’s the next big problem we are going to have to face. That is appealing.”
Yang has found himself a contingent big enough to keep him in mix of Democratic contenders in the largest field in history, not to mention stay on the debate stage when other far more politically-accomplished senators have fallen off. And he has a plan to use his massive following to win in 2020.
“The last I checked, this is a fucking Democracy, right?” Yang asked the 1,200 people gathered at Yangapalooza. “When you get the people behind you, there’s no stopping us.”
By Paige Godden