Yang performed poorly in Iowa
Yang performed poorly in Iowa (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

As the polls closed in New Hamp­shire and the vote count began, two of the eleven Democ­rats still in the race for the pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion saw the writ­ing on the wall for their pres­i­den­tial ambi­tions: Andrew Yang and Sen­a­tor Michael Ben­net. Both announced the ces­sa­tion of their campaigns.

The two can­di­dates couldn’t have been any more different.

Yang is an Asian-Amer­i­­can entre­pre­neur who has nev­er held elect­ed office, who used his nerdy, tech­no­crat­ic per­sona (his slo­gan was “Make Amer­i­ca Think Again,” or MATH for short) to gar­ner loy­al­ty from a net-cen­tric group of sup­port­ers that dubbed them­selves ‘The Yang Gang.’

Michael Bennet's campaign went largely unnoticed by the voters
Michael Ben­net’s cam­paign went large­ly unno­ticed by the vot­ers (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Ben­net is a Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor from Col­orado who made the tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can politician’s jour­ney: start­ing his career as a lawyer, mov­ing through var­i­ous polit­i­cal jobs, and even­tu­al­ly being appoint­ed to the Senate.

Yang offered a hereto­fore unheard-of idea as his sig­na­ture pol­i­cy – a sweep­ing reform of the fed­er­al bud­get which would cen­ter around a Uni­ver­sal Basic Income of $1,000 per month for for every American.

He called it “the Free­dom Div­i­dend.”

Yang pitched his idea (which is large­ly untest­ed, besides a tri­al pro­gram in Fin­land) as a safe­ty net for work­ers caught on the wrong side of the Fourth Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion – a term that describes the vast changes that inno­va­tions such as arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and automa­tion are bring­ing to the glob­al economy.

Ben­net, by con­trast, por­trayed him­self as the arch-neolib­er­al can­di­date, con­stant­ly warn­ing Democ­rats about the puta­tive dan­gers of pulling the par­ty too far to the left. His promised ”Real Deal” agen­da of neolib­er­al poli­cies and the inevitable pledge to “fix Wash­ing­ton” made Bennet’s cam­paign seem like it had dropped straight out of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic play­book of the 1980s.

Despite their dif­fer­ent per­sonas and pro­posed poli­cies, both can­di­dates chose the moments fol­low­ing the close of the polls in New Hamp­shire to exit the race.

Yang laid out his rea­son­ing to his sup­port­ers in New Hamp­shire very direct­ly, as pri­ma­ry results from the state rolled in: “I am the math guy, and it’s clear from the num­bers that we’re not going to win this campaign.”

Yang performed poorly in Iowa
Yang per­formed poor­ly in Iowa (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Bennet’s rea­son­ing for choos­ing this moment is more opaque – after all, his cam­paign has bare­ly been noticed by any­body for more than a year now, yet he hung in there until tonight. At least Andrew Yang has been qual­i­fy­ing for the debates up until now – Bennet’s dis­mal polling exclud­ed him from shar­ing the debate stage with his rivals begin­ning with the third round of debates.

Bennet’s with­draw­al is unlike­ly to shake up the Demo­c­ra­t­ic field in any way, because like John Delaney, he had essen­tial­ly become invisible.

How­ev­er, Yang drop­ping out of the race might have a sig­nif­i­cant impact.

Yang’s sup­port­ers were attract­ed to his unusu­al style and rad­i­cal, for­ward-look­ing pol­i­cy ideas; they are unlike­ly to choose to sup­port can­di­dates such as Joe Biden who cen­ter their appeal around a “return to normality.”

They are more like­ly to switch their sup­port to one of the two pro­gres­sive lead­ers in the race for the nom­i­na­tion, Bernie Sanders or Eliz­a­beth Warren.

For­mer Yang sup­port­ers could play a key role in upcom­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nat­ing events. Yang com­mand­ed between 3% and 4% of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­torate nation­al­ly. If War­ren were to receive Yang’s sup­port, or even a frac­tion of it, it would be a shot in the arm to her cam­paign, which is cur­rent­ly seek­ing a change to the nar­ra­tive of her poor per­for­mances in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

How­ev­er, if Sanders were to receive those sup­port­ers it could prove an influ­en­tial devel­op­ment in his bat­tle with Pete Buttigieg – in the first two states to vote, the U.S. Sen­a­tor from Ver­mont only bare­ly scraped above the for­mer May­or of South Bend in the final vote tal­ly. If Sanders attracts Yang sup­port­ers, it could strength­en his posi­tion in the next few states hold­ing nom­i­nat­ing events.

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