the end of the campaign & what’s next for UBI in America
Andrew Yang is out of the Democratic primary race, so what’s next for universal basic income (UBI) in America? First, let’s talk about where and how his campaign ended. Let’s talk about New Hampshire.
The Granite State
I was there, driving from city to city, walking miles in the cold, knocking on the doors of registered Democrats, slipping on treacherously icy driveways and front doorsteps. It was fun. I felt alive. After the chaos of the Iowa caucus, nobody really knew whether to feel hope or despair, but almost everyone in the Yang Gang canvassing crew were enthusiastically gunning for the former.
Technically, I was knocking doors for Andrew Yang, but in practice I ended up spending more time pushing people away from certain candidates than toward Andrew. When people so often said that they sure did like Andrew and thought that UBI sounded very interesting but that he just wasn’t someone they could consider because they didn’t believe he could win, I silently cursed the mainstream media and asked them who, then, their favorites were. When they inevitably said they were torn between some combination of Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren, I hit them with my best line:
“Hey, I’ve got 3 stickers on my car, and Yang’s is only one of them. Can I at least nudge you away from Amy and Pete?”
They were usually receptive to polite argument, so I spent some time telling them how Amy’s support of fracking was a nonstarter and her wet blanket politics would never get the kids to vote. I told them how Pete might do well in whiter-than-the-snow New Hampshire, but that he’d never get the black vote. That was usually enough to get them thinking twice about Amy or Pete.
Side note: Biden’s support was seriously fading at the time, so he seemed a non-issue, but I would have used similar arguments in nudging people away from him as I did for Amy, plus pointing to his troublesome record and his disconcerting inability to carry a sentence or thought to coherent conclusion.
Then I told these Granite-staters that the other two stickers on my car were Bernie and Liz, and I told them why I could get behind them as pretty great consolation candidates, despite their notable and disappointing lack of UBI policy proposals.
And then I usually stayed a little longer and told them what would impress them about Andrew Yang and maybe flip them his way. I told them how important it has been to even have him on that debate stage, bringing the civility, positivity, and important issues that nobody else was bringing. I reminded them that New Hampshire doesn’t actually represent many delegates, numerically-speaking, and that their most important obligation as the first primary state is not to analyze the polling or strategize the eventual winner, but to set the tone for what issues are important to the American public and who should be heard from more.
And then, a fair amount of the time, I stayed a while longer and told them about what I suggested was the most important of those issues (and what is my true area of expertise): Universal Basic Income.
By the end of my four days in that frigid but friendly state, I think I scored a few points for progressivism, bumped Andrew up a bunch of their lists, and made a lot of people think harder about UBI.
I didn’t delude myself that I could swing any sort of outcome in a big way, of course. I failed to convert more than maybe 5-10% of the voters for whom I was responsible toward Yang, and many of these were registered Democrats flagged by our canvassing app as being more receptive to his campaign, so there’s admittedly some selection bias going on there. We’ve got to embrace our small victories sometimes, though.
The Birth of a Real Movement
I was more there to learn, anyway. It was the first volunteering I’d done for any campaign, and I was doing it with the ulterior motive to get some real experience with what everyday Americans were thinking in February of 2020. It had been a few years since I’d done a deep dive, talking with people around America about UBI, out in the world, on their turf, with no computer screens between us. I wanted to get a better sense of how warm the public was getting to Yang and to UBI. I wanted to get my finger on the pulse of the nation to validate my suspicions about the strength of the movement.
In short, the UBI movement is quite strong, but with much room yet to grow. From almost total obscurity when I started UBI work in late 2016, to a majority of Americans expressing familiarity with the idea and around half of them supporting it in theory, UBI has come an incredibly long way in a short time. I’m proud to be one of a cadre of advocates who have been pushing for UBI since before Yang came on the scene, and I bow to the advocates who had been doing the work for decades before me, yet we will all acknowledge that most of that tremendous recent growth can be attributed to the impact of Andrew Yang’s campaign. He’s already made history.
Who is Andrew Yang, Really?
On February 11, Primary Day, my canvassing partner Whitman and I were racing around Lebanon, NH, to pick up some last stragglers to try and get them to the polls. We took a quick break to go back to the field office, because Andrew was in town and was dropping in to pay a visit to say hi to the volunteers.
When he showed up, he did a little pep talk and went around the room shaking hands and signing campaign paraphernalia. He seemed a little distracted, probably because he knew he was going to have to end his campaign in a few hours. He didn’t recognize me at first, which stung since we’d known each other for a few years through our UBI work. I awkwardly shook his hand as he walked past, but then he turned back, said “Hey Conrad,” gave me a hug, and told everyone in the room about this “very important project” I’m working on. Suddenly I was cool in that room of devoted Yangsters. I didn’t mind it.
It’s weird knowing somebody who gets elevated to celebrity status all of a sudden. In that room, he was an idol, but to me he was Andrew, the guy with the ballsiest plan I knew. He was the guy in 2017 who my wife Deia and I had just met, who came to our Harlem apartment for a filmed interview and confided in us, to our comically surprised reactions, that he was going to quit his job running a nonprofit and run for president. Andrew was the instant friend who donated generously to our campaigns and projects, and it was clear that it was simply because he believed in us and the work and wanted to nurture it. He’s the guy who was speaking at ritzy summit that I could in no way afford to get into to hunt for donors, and so he snuck me in as his “body guard,” introduced me to a (disappointing) billionaire or two, and set me loose to try and work the crowd. He’s the guy who still finds a way to respond to the occasional tipsy “way to go!” text from a casual acquaintance (sorry for those, Andrew) after a debate performance or CNN appearance, despite being just about the busiest person on the planet. Andrew’s the guy who always makes you feel good, and you can tell he’s not doing it to manipulate you.
That’s who Andrew is. He’s not some DNC plant, Silicon Valley hotshot, or cynical technocrat. He just cares. He’s actually sincere. He’s a warrior mensch, if I’m allowed to coin that phrase. He’s also smart as hell, works incredibly hard, and giggles a little bit awkwardly sometimes. It’s not an act. I think that’s why Andrew’s supporters fell so hard for him, many of them switching parties or taking interest in politics for the first time to join that friendliest of gangs. He’s not like the other politicians. He’s refreshing.
It was an emotional room in the convention hall where he ended his campaign that night, but he’ll be back, and next time he’ll start with his army behind him instead of having to painstakingly cobble them together together for two years. They won’t forget him, because he ran a campaign of hope, civility, and ideas. He bowed out at just the right time, too, leaving people wanting to know more about him and about UBI, without dragging either into the electoral bitterness of the ensuing months. He teed things up about as well as possible for the movement, if you ask me.
So What’s Next?
Looking forward to the rest of this election cycle and beyond, UBI advocates and Yang Gangsters are furiously searching for what to put their considerable love and energy into next.
There are a number of local elections with UBI candidates who will need their help, for one thing. One named Mike Broihier is even running to try and unseat Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.
And the remaining presidential candidates are hoping to acquire some of that energy for their campaigns too, no doubt. To them I ask one thing:
Andrew and his supporters have made it clear and uncomplicated. The way to earn his and their definite backing is to embrace UBI. We’ll see if anyone bites. It’ll be an indicator of how powerful the UBI movement has become and how much more work is left to do to truly get it taken seriously.
In any case, the UBI movement soldiers on, and there’s some big stuff already planned for this year. Various organizations, advocates, and activists will still be relentlessly pushing to get UBI as far into the conversation as possible. Yang himself, as I sit here writing this, has just announced the launch of a new nonprofit organization to continue supporting UBI candidates and spreading the message.
And remember that project I kind of humble-bragged about Yang plugging to the volunteers a few paragraphs back? It’s a docuseries we’re calling Bootstraps. It’s unlike any project that’s ever been done before, exploring UBI in a very intimate way, and we can’t wait to share it with you.
There’s too much energy in the UBI movement right now to be contained or diminished, so expect to see an increasing number of efforts and projects cropping up all the time. As this election cycle stumbles maddeningly and worryingly along, and as the UBI movement grapples with how to keep pushing forward with its fearless leader out of the race but not out of the game, I invite you to stay involved (or get involved) in making history with us.
To stay tuned for updates on Bootstraps, sign up for the monthly newsletter and follow me on social media at @theUBIguy.
Want to read more about UBI? Here’s a handy list of links to all my Medium pieces on basic income.