2020 campaign features number of non-politician presidential candidates

Andrew Yang speaks at a campaign rally Nov. 1 in Des Moines. After his remarks, he led rally attendees in a march to the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration in Wells Fargo Arena.

Lauren Ratliff

Donald Trump did not have a background in politics before winning the presidency. In the 2020 election, candidates have differing levels of experience within politics and government.

Pete Buttigeig is in a unique situation compared to other candidates. His experience as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is different from Joe Biden’s position as a former two-term vice president, for example. Having smaller-scale political experience can also make Buttigeig stand out as a candidate, said Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department.

“It makes a difference in the level of government that you’re involved in,” Shelley said. “He’s closer to the people; I think it makes it easier for him to have an outsider and insider approach.”

A candidate with no experience in elected office seeking the presidency is Andrew Yang, a former tech executive running on a policy of a universal basic income he calls a “freedom dividend.”

Yang’s universal basic income would provide all Americans over the age of majority with $1,000 monthly.

“I’m literally trying to give everybody money,” Yang said in a tweet Friday.

Not having a background in politics can help candidates appear fresh and new to the scene. As a candidate with experience, Biden has to face his past votes from when he was a senator.

“[Biden] has to back away from votes he took as a senator,” Shelley said. “He voted in favor of crime-control legislation that now is regarded as racist by [some] Democrats.”

A recent addition to the political scene is Elizabeth Warren. Warren began her career as a school teacher, then became a law professor at Harvard University before finally entering the world of politics late in her career. Her late appearance into politics could play in her favor, Shelley said.

“[Warren] didn’t start out as a politician,” Shelley said. “She segued into politics much later in life and has much less of a track record because of that.”

A large portion of Bernie Sanders’ and Warren’s supporters are younger voters, according to a YouGov poll of Democratic primary voters. However, with Biden’s past in politics, he’s struggling to gain younger supporters compared to Sanders and Warren, Shelley said.

“The reason Warren and Sanders appeal to young people is because they talk their language,” Shelley said. “Biden is just not able to do that. You become beholden to the people that got you there, and young generations just didn’t get him there.”

Tom Steyer, another presidential candidate without elected experience, focuses his campaign in part on addressing environmental issues, the most important issue for younger voters. Steyer has been involved in politics for decades, although never in a way this notable.

Leah Haberman, Steyer’s Iowa communications director, said Steyer provides the outsider perspective necessary for today’s government.

“Having someone from the outside saying our government is broken is extremely powerful,” Haberman said. 

Haberman said Steyer has accomplished many things beyond and within politics. He started a business that turned into a multi-national business, and his work with Need to Impeach is notable.

“People trust that he’s able to get something done,” Haberman said.