More than 250 people running for the Democratic presidential nomination are polling within a couple of points of Andrew Yang, but that won’t stop his Yang Gang and some members of the media from calling for the press to pay more attention to their candidate.
Blaming a losing candidate’s lack of traction on the media is a time-honored tradition. But Yang, Marianne Williamson, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders get more attention than they deserve given their likelihood of winning the Democratic nomination.
“Without fail, every candidate who has come from outside the Democratic establishment, or who has dared to question the Democratic establishment, has been smeared, dismissed or ignored by most media,” The Hill’s Krystal Ball wrote in a recent op-ed. Ball isn’t the only one to argue that the media overlooks Yang. Some of his supporters spend their time tracking so-called slights.
Yang is a 44-year-old lawyer, entrepreneur and philanthropist who has developed an online following for not being a politician and for wanting to give $1,000 a month to every American adult over the age of 18.
He’s also polling at 3 percent in the Democratic presidential race, according to the most recent RealClearPolitics average.
That’s an optimistic view of his standing, considering he’s polling at 1.5 percent in Iowa, 3 percent in New Hampshire, 2 percent in Nevada, and less than 1 percent in South Carolina. And that’s after Yang had his own primetime, one-hour CNN town hall in April and participated in two nationally televised debates. According to CNN’s national polling, he’s grown from 1 percent (May 28-31) to 1 percent (June 28-30) to 1 percent (Aug. 15-18) to 2 percent (Sept. 5-9). At this rate, Yang will be at 3.5 percent by the February caucuses and primaries.
There’s virtually no difference between how Yang is performing in the polls compared to 250 other Democratic candidates (more than 800 overall, according to Ballotpedia) who have filed to run for president but receive no media attention. They would seem to have a bigger gripe considering they might be polling even with or ahead of Yang if their names were actually included as options in the polls.
A victim of history
Yang has raised $4.6 million this year through the end of June, which puts him ahead of most of the lower-tier candidates. But he has also been running for nearly two years (he announced in November 2017) and has been spending money at a rapid clip. He had $848,000 in the bank on June 30.
When it comes to the lack of attention relative to other candidates, Yang is a victim of history. Yes, he’s polling slightly ahead of three U.S. senators, one current member of the House and three former members. But there’s simply no precedent for anyone as young as Yang without any government or military experience getting elected president before.
At barely 46 years old on Inauguration Day 2021, Yang would be younger than all but two men when starting his presidency. Vice President Teddy Roosevelt, also a former New York governor, was 42 when he took office in 1901, while John F. Kennedy, who served in the Senate and House, was 43 at his swearing-in in 1961.
Before Donald Trump, no one had ever become president without a background in government or the military, according to The New York Times. But Trump’s success didn’t open the door for all political outsiders.
Trump started the 2016 campaign with nearly universal name identification, including celebrity status and a reputation for being a successful businessman (whether earned or not). And by this point in 2015, a broad panel of partisan activists and media types for USA Today identified him as a top contender for the nomination. Yang has not climbed to the same position.
If more media attention were directly related to a candidate’s standing, wouldn’t the politicians polling worse than Yang be doing better since they receive more attention than he does?
So instead of Yang getting more media attention in the name of equality, maybe the lower-tier candidates should receive less to even things out.
Williamson might be an “incredibly accomplished woman,” according to The Hill’s Ball, but her chief credential appears to be that she’s connected to someone (Oprah Winfrey) who would be a presidential contender. And even after participating in two national debates and a climate change town hall, she has not grown from 0.6 percent in the last six months, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Gabbard is an Iraq War veteran and a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard but has no path to the Democratic presidential nomination. She might not even win renomination to her own 2nd District seat in Hawaii if she falls back to run for reelection.
Her lack of attention is not a result of party and media establishment feeling threatened because she is challenging “the bipartisan pro-war foreign policy consensus,” as Ball argued.
That’s not the whole story.
“Throughout her six years in Congress, [Gabbard] has repeatedly shown how out-of-step she is with mainstream progressive values,” wrote David Nir, political director of Daily Kos, which is not regarded as a tool of a pro-war party establishment. Nir laid out the case against Gabbard in a January post, which also endorsed state Sen. Kai Kahele for her seat.
“Among many other things, Gabbard has cozied up to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad; … refused to sign a letter from 169 House Democrats denouncing Trump for appointing white nationalist Steve Bannon as a White House strategist; has declined to sign on to a ban on assault weapons; has cultivated ties with violent Hindu nationalists in India; attacked Barack Obama for refusing to use the phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism’; voted to make it all but impossible for Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.; and even told a reporter in 2016 that her ‘personal views’ opposing abortion rights ‘haven't changed,’” Nir wrote.
The fact that she was the most Googled candidate after the first two debates has no predictive value. It’s a result of her not being well-known and tells us nothing about whether people were searching because they liked what she was saying.
At 1.2 percent in the national polls, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average, Gabbard has about as good a shot at winning the Democratic nomination as I do, and maybe less. So whatever attention she gets as a presidential contender is generous.
And finally, there’s Sanders.
For a non-Democrat running for the Democratic Party nomination, the independent senator from Vermont gets plenty of attention. He had 94 percent name ID among Democrats in the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.
Historically speaking, the party nomination is usually won by a member of the same party. Yet the media covers Sanders as if what he’s doing is normal. He’s done remarkably well as an independent running in the Democratic Party, although his support is down from 23 percent in national Democratic polls four years ago to 17 percent today. Don’t forget that Sanders un-enrolled from the Democratic Party after the 2016 presidential election in order to run for reelection to the Senate as an independent last year, which could leave some Democratic voters skeptical.
Breaking the mold, defying the rules, and running as a political outsider sound like great messages. But don’t blame the media for your candidate’s lack of traction in the race. There are literally hundreds of candidates with about the same chance as Yang who don’t get nearly the same amount of attention. At some point, the candidates and campaigns need to look in the mirror and see if maybe there’s something (or someone) else to blame.
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