“Let’s just see,” the 27-year-old texted a friend before seeking solace in “Golden Girls,” eating some junk food and going to bed early in Southern California. Checking in to the reeling Yang Gang social media universe, where a woman was crying during a live stream, Kang knew that her vote on Super Tuesday wouldn’t change.
“I still believe in his vision,” said Kang, a onetime Bernie Sanders voter.
As Yang left the Democratic race last week without making an endorsement, the political world wondered who would scoop up his supporters. The lawyer-entrepreneur who just a year ago spawned headlines like “Random man runs for president” had somehow outlasted, outpolled and outraised star lawmakers since announcing in 2017 — all while crowd-surfing, doing the Cupid Shuffle and generally looking like he was having a blast.
Pitching a universal basic income of $1,000 a month for every adult in America as the solution to automation-driven job loss, Yang built up a young, online-savvy base of supporters who embraced his “nerdiest campaign in history” with blue MATH hats that stood for “Make America Think Harder.”
That attention to numbers, Yang said, convinced him to drop out last week in New Hampshire. He didn’t want to push a lost cause.
But with the Nevada caucuses a day away, some in the Yang Gang aren’t ready to move on.
Some political analysts say Yang supporters overlap most with Sanders voters, who also skew young and politically independent — and are openly wooing Yang fans in tweets and comment chains.
Yang’s former state director in Nevada has made a case for Elizabeth Warren.
Yang himself says he’ll throw his support behind anyone who backs his ideas. “Say every American should get $1,000 a month, and then I will be there with you on the trail the next day,” he said on MSNBC, days before joining CNN as a political commentator.
Yang may have pledged to do whatever he can to back the Democratic nominee, but some of his supporters bristle at the “vote blue no matter who” concept — and don’t appear eager to abandon the candidate they fought for: #StillVotingYang trended on Twitter in recent days as the Yang Gang prepared to rebrand for the long haul (“Truckers for UBI”) and buzzed about a “summer camp” where they can plan for Yang 2024.
Kang says she’ll vote as necessary to replace President Trump but also won’t blame Yang Gang members who vote for the Republican incumbent. Yang’s slogan was “not left, not right, forward,” and exit polls from New Hampshire showed him snagging a larger share of the primary’s former Trump voters than its former Clinton voters.
“I kind of want them to vote for Trump,” Kang said, “because for me, it’s a symbolic ‘F you’” — to the Democratic establishment she accuses of ignoring the only candidate she loved.
She loved the community, too. Rejoining Twitter a little over half a year ago to follow Yang’s account, Kang watched her followers balloon from seven to 700: Little blue hat icons, a nod to Yang’s “MATH” caps, marked her new online friends as members of the Yang Gang.
They were there for Yang, leaving enthusiastic comments and retweeting anyone with a blue “verified” check mark who mentioned him. But they were also there, Kang said, for one another. They asked the Yang Gang to pray for their sick mom, their job prospects, their recovery from a surgery. One man who lived across the country offered to look over Kang’s résumé and emailed her detailed notes.
It’s part of the vibe that Yang voters aren’t sure can be replicated in another campaign.
“The Yang Gang was a very positive place,” says Matt Saincome, a 29-year-old start-up founder from the Bay Area. “It was kind of just a zone where you could hang out and everyone supported each other.”
He and several of his close friends are throwing their support to Sanders. Saincome argues Sanders — now the front-runner in national polling — is a natural choice for those drawn to a focus on “helping out everyday Americans” and people who stretch normal party lines.
Others say Sanders is exactly the candidate they won’t vote for in November.
“I don’t want to elect a president that I feel is going to do more harm to our country just to get Trump out of office,” said Avery Blount, a high school senior in Colorado Springs who says he leans right on social issues and left on economic ones.
James Ellars, who voted for Trump in 2016 hoping for a different kind of politician, isn’t eager to reelect the president. But he can’t say yet how he’ll vote this fall.
As for the primary: “If nothing changes, Yang.”
Maybe candidates could earn his vote by embracing UBI, Ellars said. But for now, he’d much rather talk about the future he sees the Yang Gang building past 2020. He’s even launched a bid for Congress in Apple Valley, Calif.; three fellow Yang enthusiasts hoping to enter their own races called him up one day for advice.
He dreams of building the kind of support that Sanders kept growing after 2016.
“You would think that we would be sad and low-energy,” Ellars said. “But it’s kind of the opposite.”
Deana Rohlinger, a Florida State University professor who studies political participation, says that whether the momentum lasts will depend on what Yang does to keep himself relevant.
“Communities can have staying power,” she said, but Yang will have to “make some kind of move to continue to hold on to this community, let lone make it grow.”
Yang, who did not respond to The Washington Post’s inquiries, told the Atlantic he’s contemplating another run for office, whether for president or New York mayor. He also told journalists he’s open to a vice president or Cabinet spot, and the New York Times reported he got calls from all the remaining candidates after dropping out.
“We’ll be back,” Yang tweeted the day he broke the bad news to his supporters.
The crowd chanted: “2024!”
Then, late Thursday night, with the Nevada caucuses looming, Yang posted a picture promising just that.