What a dynamic movement looks like

In many ways, the Yang2020 political campaign aka the Yang Gang is extremely different from other campaigns. For one, it doesn’t run on name recognition, political alliances or big donors at all, it is a grassroots campaign. But it’s not just any grassroots campaign, it is an extremely powerful movement, which has only reached a fraction of it’s potential numbers.

Being part of the Yang Gang as a European for Yang has taught me a lot of lessons about my subject of interest: motivation. And I believe I got some golden insights into the nature of powerful once-in-a-generation movements.

What does success look like?

I’m sure you want to know why Yang Gang has the power to be comparable with the great civil rights movements and other once in a generation movements. And why it greatly surpasses both the Sanders2016 and MAGA campaigns.

Here is 9 power indicators of the Yang Gang, of which only a few are true of Sanders or Trump followers.

  • From zero to hero:
    Andrew Yang went from zero name recognition and no elected office to consistently polling at 5th or 6th in the democratic primaries of around 20 candidates (all of which have had a top political career). Fundraising is also at 5th or 6th, and Yang has qualified for every democratic debate (all data as of late November 2019).
  • Many conversions of “enemies”:
    Imagine that someone say that they have only ever voted Republican, but they will vote for Yang over Trump, and even register democrat to vote in the primary.
    Well, this happens almost daily on Twitter with new people.
    Polls also consistently show that Yang would be the best or second best candidate for turning Trump followers in a general election.
  • Cross-ideological alliance:
    Most other candidates choose one core ideological group that they engage, either democratic moderates or progressives.
    Yang is unique in that the Yang Gang consist of both moderates, progressives, libertarians, conservatives and ex-MAGA.
  • Energy of followers:
    The Yang Gang is extremely energetic. They produce huge amounts of memes, infographics and other stuff to share on social media.
    Or watch a Yang rally on YouTube – contrast with any other political rally, and observe the difference in enthusiasm and energy.
  • Discipline of followers:
    From trending hashtags on Twitter, winning online polls and app competitions, to reaching fundraising goals, the Yang Gang self-organise to do what is needed.
    Or take the TV clips with Yang interviewed with Yang Gang around him – who stay completely silent until he is done speaking, then break out in cheers.
    Smaller actions on the ground are also self-organised along with accommodation for the people who want to come to an early voting state, and stay for canvassing.
  • Positive reactions:
    From what I have read from canvassers, phone and text bankers, it seems like the reactions they get from contacting people are a lot more positive than what other political campaigns get. People are genuinely interested in Yang Gang.
  • Huge conversion rate:
    I only have indirect evidence for this, but my impression is that whenever a person hears about Yang and his policies, he or she is very likely to join the Yang Gang soon after. This is in contrast to every other candidate in the primary.
  • Dedicated followers:
    Out of all candidates, the followers of Yang are least likely to change their vote to any other candidate. This has been confirmed by several polls.
  • Likeability:
    Yang was just confirmed as the most likeable (or “least unlikeable”) of all democratic candidates, meaning that supporters of other candidates view him with respect and not hostility.
  • Success despite the media:
    The Yang Gang has not gotten anything for free. Yang got the least amount of speaking time at the debates of all qualified candidates. He also had the worst ratio of TV coverage to polling result (times mentioned per polling percent point) of any candidate. With such a low level of interest/support from the TV stations, it is a show of strength to stay at 5th to 6th place in the 20 candidate race.

The reason for greatness

So what are the secrets of the Yang Gang? Using my knowledge of the Octalysis framework for motivation, I got a pretty good idea about which characteristics are key to the success of the movement.

You need to keep in mind that Yang got 150 policies fleshed out, so he has had to prioritise what his message would be. Which is true for a lot of campaigns or organisations: they have a lot of positions and messages, and have to decide what they will put at center stage.

If you are unfamiliar with the framework, here is a key to interpret the Core Drive abbrevations:
CD1: Epic meaning/calling, CD2: Development/accomplishment, CD3: Creativity/feedback. CD4: Ownership/possession, CD5: Social relatedness, CD6: Scarcity/impatience, CD7: Unpredictability/curiosity, CD8: Loss/avoidance.

Central message

The first part is about the central message of the Yang2020 campaign – why is it so powerful?

  • New/different:
    It is hard to create a movement about something that has been seen and tried before. Automation as threat, and Universal Basic Income as solution are surprising messages for a political campaign. There is curiosity, but there is also the unpredictability – anything new might have potential to change everything.
  • Dystopian now, utopian future:
    Any movement need to engage supporters urgently by communicating how bad the current situation is, and that it’s spiralling out of control. But to avoid burn-out, there need to be a positive vision that the movement can prevent the catastrophe, and bring about a bright and wonderful future. This is a CD8/CD1 combo.
  • A hidden but obvious threat.
    In Andrew Yang’s case the threat is “job loss to automation”. I think every movement need to go against a threat that is being under-reported in the news and under-discussed by politicians. But at the same time so obvious that most people will agree when you point it out – it is in agreement with their everyday experience.
  • Condemn structures, not people
    Some campaigns (Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump) manage to do well by being “them vs. us”, identifying their enemies as “capitalists”, “billionaires” or “the swamp”. But a truly engaging movement tone down the idea of competition, partisanship or violent strife (which is black-hat CD5).
    This open the movement up to many people who would be put off by a very confrontational “you are with us or you are against us” message. Example in point: political movements for change (like democratic reform) perform better (higher chance of success) when they stay non-violent rather than take up arms. It is easier to attract people to your movement when you hold the moral high ground.
  • Truth and facts on our side.
    The campaign message is always being presented with data, which is a great way of making it more believable. Yang knows the data by heart. When he is unafraid to enter honestly into debates, and talk data rather than opinion, it cements the impression that you are fighting for Truth on top of the other fights. Very CD1.

Leader qualities

This part is dedicated to the things that Yang does as leader, candidate and public face of the Yang Gang. I do not include more traditional leadership qualities like “well-structured”, only those that directly help him communicate the message of the movement in an effective way.

  • Anti-stereotype:
    People have filters that rapidly makes them embrace or reject messages or people. If people can put someone in a category quickly because they fit a stereotype “typical democratic politician”, then they are not likely to actually listen to the message.
    Not fitting in to a stereotype makes people curious and willing to listen to Yang.
    From not wearing a tie to crowdsurfing, to dancing, Yang break the stereotype of politicians in many ways.
  • Relateable:
    Although Yang has an Ivy League education and sky high IQ, he makes a point of speaking like an average person, leaving out academical and political lingo, and avoiding cliches. One reporter also joked that Yang “needs money for his swear jar” because he is not afraid of swearing on air.
  • Greater purpose:
    A point Yang often mentions is that he didn’t decide to run for president because he had a dream of becoming president. He is running because he is concerned about the issues, and convinced about the solutions of his campaign.
    While other candidates also pick a primary issue and solution, it often seems like the other way around – “I should be president – and these are the issues I am running to fix”.
  • Honesty:
    Yang just always seem honest, and I believe it is because he is exactly that.
    Connected to the point of greater purpose, other candidates often seem to dishonestly take any position they believe will win them votes. And downplay any previous positions they held, when those positions are unpopular.
    Yang is true to the issues and solutions he believe in, and will not downplay them.
  • Directness:
    Yang does not avoid hard questions – which is really unusual in politics. People are so used to politicians avoiding to answer questions directly, that a direct answer seems surprising.
  • The adult in the room:
    What Yang manages to do in debates is to come across as the most rational, self-controlled, responsible and constructive participant. And no, he keeps the swearing out of the debates.
    While he has criticised Elisabeth Warrens’ billionaire tax, he did that without turning it into a personal attack. In the same way, Yang has often criticised the way other candidates attack Donald Trump or each other. “This does not solve any of the problems on the ground that got Donald Trump elected.”.
    He even defended candidate Tom Steyer against attacks at a debate, proving his honesty on this point.
    By being the adult, Yang makes the other candidates look like children.
  • Data-focused:
    If there is one thing Yang absolutely loves, it is data. For every argument he makes, he cites data to prove his point. He is also not afraid of discussing the data.
    This reinforce his honesty – he believes he is right because he got the data to prove it, and he trust that the data will always prove his positions right.
    Being open to change policies if proven wrong by data is part of this.
  • Non-combative, non-divisive:
    Whenever Yang speaks, it is with a “we’re in this together”, “we need to fix the system” tone. He avoid to respond with a combative tone when getting critical or even unfair questions, and he especially avoids an “us vs. them” narrative.
    Even though he often singles out Jeff Bezos (because Amazon paid zero federal taxes last year), he doesn’t demonize him. An example of this is when he mentions that Jeff will also receive the 1000$ Freedom Dividend “just to remind him that he is an American”.

Campaign structure

With the strong points of the message and Andrew Yang himself covered, here are finally the strong points that relates to the structure of the campaign.

  • Social connectedness, social proof.
    I think this is the most addictive movement I have been part of, mainly due to it’s huge social presence on Twitter. When you read many messages in support of the movement every day, it galvanise you, and encourage you to make your own contribution.
    Yang Gang is very good at promoting “remember to follow other blue hats (Yang Gang)” – this leads to many messages about Yang Gang stuff every day.
    Also, Yang Gang can ratio (out-number) any tweet critical of Yang, which is very encouraging and great social proof every time.
  • The followers are the campaign
    In Andrew Yang’s words: “The Yang Gang has the job of winning me the presidency. My job is to make your job easier – by being the best candidate I can be.”  It could not be communicated any more clearly that being Yang Gang is not a spectator sport. Being engaged in something happens mostly when you take action, not when you simply watch passively.
    And there is always something to do on Twitter: hashtags to trend, news to share, attacks to defend against.
  • Decentralized
    There are very few commands given from Yang or the campaign manager.
    The main campaign (paid staff) also seem to have more of a supporting role (opening offices, making and buying adds, booking events), leaving much of the organizing to the volunteer Yang Gang.
  • Creativity.
    If people in the movement engage in creative acts, it will inspire others engage in the movement – and to do their own creative acts.
  • A clear goal and obvious sub-goals.
    Winning the presidency for Andrew Yang is very well-defined, and has a limited time-frame. It leans to well-defined sub-goals (fundraising, poll results, qualifying for debates, winning early states)
    . This is of cause true of any political campaign, but these kinds of goals would be missing for many social, environmental or religious movements.

So I believe that these insights will be very valueable in my own project: the Teachers National Network for Gamification of Teaching. I hope they will also be useful to you.

If you want to know more about the Octalysis Framework which I used to make this analysis, check out my introduction to Octalysis.

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