“You probably heard this about me: There’s an Asian man running for president who wants to give you $1,000, and all three of those things are true,” entrepreneur and presidential candidate Andrew Yang said to a mid-sized crowd of mostly young people gathered in 40-degree temperatures in the Boston Common on Wednesday.

Yang is not a typical candidate, and he knows it. Prior to running for public office, he founded the nonprofit Venture for America, which places recent college graduates in cities like Las Vegas, Detroit and Charlotte to help develop startup ecosystems outside of the major economic hubs. In 2015, then President Barack Obama appointed him to be a presidential ambassador for global entrepreneurship, and it was his experience in Washington, along with the ascendance of Donald Trump to the presidency, that inspired him to run.

“[In 2016], I was like holy s**t, we got so desperate we just elected a narcissistic reality TV star to be our president,” Yang said. “That’s how bad things are.”

Once considered to be a longshot candidate, Yang has slowly carved out a place for himself in the ever-growing field of Democratic presidential candidates. An April 10 poll by Quinnipiac University reported he is doing better than New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and within a point of Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Corey Booker.

Yang’s pitch to voters, however, has little to do with his political experience and instead focuses on the threat that automation will have on the American economy. During the rally, Yang pointed out that four million manufacturing jobs had been lost in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, all states that voted for Trump in 2016. He argued that the Democratic Party seems unwilling to accept that automation played a role in the election and will play one in harming the economy.

“If you work in technology, you know that what we did to the manufacturing jobs, we’re about to do the retail jobs, the fast food jobs [and] the truck driving jobs,” Yang said. “I was an unhappy corporate attorney for about five months, and I guarantee you can automate that job.”

One of Yang’s proposed solutions is to provide Americans with a form of a universal basic income that he’s calling a "Freedom Dividend." Under Yang’s proposal, every American citizen would receive a monthly $1,000 stipend from the government, regardless of age or income level. Though some have called his approach radical, he says it’s already been shown to be successful in Alaska, where the government provides every resident with a dividend generated by the revenue gained from the state’s oil revenues. While other Democrats have voiced an interest in the concept, Yang is the only one who’s endorsed it, earning him praise within the progressive community.

“Andrew Yang’s proposal for a universal basic income is a really exciting development in the presidential race,” said Quentin Palfrey, former executive director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, North America and the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. “While more research is needed on large-scale, long-term efforts like the one Yang proposes, studies ... have consistently shown that shorter-term conditional cash transfers do not reduce work effort or cause people to spend more money on alcohol or tobacco, but rather improve a wide range of outcomes, including food security, educational attainment, investment in small businesses and long term earnings.”

Supporters of Andrew Yang gathered for a rally at the Boston Common on April 10.
Arjun Singh WGBH News

Long popular with academics and economists, some at Wednesday’s rally said Yang’s embrace of the universal basic income, along with more than 80 policies listed on his website that tackle everything from campaign finance reform and regulating artificial intelligence to granting Puerto Rico statehood, were what convinced them to consider a Yang presidency.

“I like the fact that he’s very open with his policies. He presents a lot of numbers, and everything is backed by a study. It’s not just something he’s pulling out of thin air,” said Ryan Lim, a 26-year-old medical student at Boston University who attended the rally. “He’s not full of just platitudes and empty promises. He has a plan for anything.”

Noting the young age of his audience on Wednesday, Yang said he believes young people appreciate his message because he’s earnestly speaking about the problems their generation faces.

“I think young people have had their confidence shaken that the government is really looking out for them, and they see in my campaign a recognition of the issues that are most relevant to them around affordability and student debt, around an economy that has no place for them, and around institutions that have sold them false promises and left them staring up and thinking their future is uncertain,” Yang said. “They see in my campaign a real path forward, and I feel very strongly that we have left shambles of a country to our young people and we owe them much better.”

Whether or not this will translate to success on the campaign trail remains to be seen. Though Yang is doing well for an outsider candidate, he is still far behind front runners Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. However, some of his supporters feel that even if Yang doesn’t earn the nomination, if the Democratic nominee picks up a few of his policies, it will have been a successful campaign.

“If you had asked me a year ago if he had a chance of winning, I would have said that he’s a dark horse and I just want to get him on the debate stage so people just steal his ideas,” said Christine Donahue, 48. “[But today], I’ve got to say that he’s got as good a chance as anyone at this point.”