Politics

Andrew Yang and the Rise of the Viral Politician

Notice the disparity in likes between the posts that portray Yang or his policies in a humorous light, and the post that is purely factual.

Yang’s portrayal of himself as a meme is reciprocated by his followers who interpret his posts as memes. Take the top comment on the left-most post for instance; a_kazi2022 commented, “Nice,” and his comment received 579 likes. “Nice” is a viral meme reply to anything mildly humorous.

In March, Yang’s official YouTube channel posted a video showing an animated Yang performing the viral dance move “flossing”. The video did extremely well given how young Yang’s campaign was; it racked in nearly 200,000 views and 11,000 likes.

Yang’s atypical approach was well received as seen in these comments.

However, it’s more than just memes: social media affords politicians the opportunity to escape the ideologically repressive two-party structure and express nuanced views to huge segments of population.

Unlike a lot of political slogans, Yang’s major catchphrase, “Not left, not right, but forward,” has some merit. Yang has one of the most ideologically diverse voter populations of any candidate in recent years. As the New York Times noted Yang has drawn support from “progressives, libertarians, Trump voters and disaffected voters.” His radical policies are surely the root of this diverse support; however, his use of social media is instrumental in the diffusion of these ideas.

Yang sat for an hour interview with notoriously polarizing right-wing speaker Ben Shapiro. Agreeing to do this interview is something most Democratic candidates would never think to do. And while the conversation could have easily degraded into unproductive vitriol, both men remained open-minded. The comments reflect the productivity of the conversation:

Rather than surround himself with those that already support his views, Yang has looked to expand his reach via social media appearances with those who disagree with him, and has had success with this approach.

The use of this example is not to focus on wether or not Yang’s appeal to Trump voters is good or bad, but to offer an important counter example to the popular “echo-chamber” argument. Sure, social media makes it disturbingly easy to surround yourself with purely reaffirming perspectives, but it also makes it incredibly easy to expose and engage with radically different opinions.

While the multifaceted nature of politics makes locating causal relationships difficult, it is clear that Yang’s exciting policies and personality mesh particularly well with social media.

This paper really sparked my interest and led me to develop some interesting hypotheses and questions about the future of US politics.

Assuming that social media will be further ingrained in our lives and that social media incentives the production of attention grabbing content, it seems logical to assume that future politicians may run on increasingly radical platforms in hopes of gaining much needed attention.

Additionally, the seemingly direct connection that social media grants between the content producer and receiver may blur the lines between politician and celebrity.

And my final question is; if one could quantify the radicalness of a candidates policies it may be fruitful to explore the relationship between radical policies and social media followings.


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