New Study Reveals Powerful Influence Joe Rogan Has on Politics

Andrew Yang

Getty Andrew Yang.

Andrew Yang’s appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in 2019 helped send his universal basic income idea and his presidential candidacy into the mainstream, a new study from the Cambridge University Press reveals. Yang appeared on the JRE and talked about the concept of UBI for more than two hours in February 2019, while his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was outside the spotlight.

“The core idea behind Yang’s candidacy – a basic income ‘Freedom Dividend’ compelled by the rise of automation – and the campaign itself resonated after the candidate’s appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast and YouTube channel. This appearance had an outsized impact on the spread of the idea of UBI and ignited Yang’s primary constituency of young, tech-oriented men,” Kirsten Adams and Daniel Kreiss, both professors and researchers at the University of North Carolina Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Center for Information, Technology and Public Life, wrote in the paper, Power in Ideas, published by Cambridge University Press in April 2021.

The researchers added, “Joe Rogan is someone who came of age in a hybrid media environment characterized by complexity and the mixing of genres such as entertainment and politics. … While political communication scholars rarely consider media such as ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ as important shapers of public discourse and political attitudes, the reach of this venue is enormous.”

They wrote, “In short, Rogan’s show provided a platform with incredible reach for Yang and his idea of the Freedom Divided, which the two men spent close to two hours discussing in detailed and highly substantive terms on February 12, 2019.”

Yang rocketed into the public discourse after his appearance on Rogan and in other media, and found his way onto the Democratic primary debate stage. He eventually dropped out of the race in February 2020. Yang is now running for mayor in New York City.

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Yang’s Appearance on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ Was a ‘Touchstone Moment’ for UBI & Their Conversation ‘Powerfully Encoded This Idea Into the Discourse,’ the Researchers Say

The researchers wrote, “We quickly recognized the Rogan episode as a touchstone moment for UBI because of its frequently mentioned role in propelling Yang and his primary platform of UBI toward the center of American political discourse.”

Yang wrote about the idea of universal basic income in a chapter in his 2018 book, The War on Normal People, but the researchers said that did not lead to widespread interest in UBI. The researchers wrote in the April 2021 study, “It was not the book, however, but Yang’s appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast nearly a year later that powerfully encoded this idea into discourse, where it traveled widely.”

According to the study, Rogan’s “massively popular podcast” is “a medium often overlooked in the field of political communication despite its likely growing and substantial influence in the political and journalistic fields.” The researchers added:

As described earlier in this section, ‘The Joe Rogan Experience’ in particular has both a substantial podcast and YouTube reach. Rogan has built an expansive following over the past decade, as his podcast has become one of the most popular in the world, particularly by appealing to a predominantly young (white) male audience through blunt and often profanity-laced long-format interviews with a wide range of political and public figures (Matthews, 2019). Unique to Rogan’s podcast is the breadth of ideological voices it airs, encompassing a range of (often controversial) topics and guests – from Bernie Sanders to Edward Snowden and Alex Jones.

The researchers cited a senior communications staffer for the Yang campaign who told them, “One of our most popular content pieces or segment slices was his long form interviews on podcasts or YouTube shows. And those were great because the demographic that we really appeal to spends a lot of their time online and they’re willing to sit for like an hour and a half, two hours and listen to somebody if they have something interesting to say. Joe Rogan really launched Andrew Yang into the race.”

The researchers wrote, “Andrew Yang sat across from Joe Rogan on a wooden table cluttered with Buddhist icons, water bottles, and studio equipment for a nearly two-hour conversation on February 12, 2019. The episode was a great success, with more than 6 million views on YouTube alone at the time this book went to press. The exchange between Rogan and Yang reveals how the candidate elaborated the idea of UBI, which is especially notable for its technological underpinnings.”

According to the study, “It is impossible to consider the broader travel of the idea of UBI in the American political and media fields since 2019 without Andrew Yang. … For instance, searches of Google Trends reveal that between 2004 and mid-2020, the most prominent related Google queries for ‘universal basic income’ alongside ‘UBI’ were ‘universal basic income Yang,’ ‘Andrew Yang universal basic income,’ and ‘Andrew Yang.'”

Rogan’s Podcast Caused Google Searches for UBI to Skyrocket & Led to Thousands of Dollars in Donations to His Campaign

According to the study, “Yang’s campaign and platform gained immediate traction after the Rogan appearance.” The researchers found that searches for UBI on Google skyrocketed after Yang appeared on Rogan’s podcast.

The UNC researchers said, “Yang, senior members of his campaign, and journalists have agreed that his interview on Rogan’s show alone brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and significantly raised his profile – and that of UBI – in the Democratic primaries. … Federal Election Commission data show his campaign donations doubled between February 12 and 28, and he wrote in his campaign blog that his campaign ‘could be split into two phases: ‘BR’ (Before Rogan) and ‘AR’ (After Rogan).’ In some retellings, Mr. Yang’s appearance on the podcast was the campaign’s true ‘unofficial launch’ and perhaps the single biggest turning point in his campaign, an event that vaulted the businessman onto voters’ radars. By March 2019, Yang had met the polling and fundraising thresholds to qualify for the first round of Democratic primary debates.”

The researchers said Yang going on Rogan helped him gain traction in the media in both mainstream and partisan outlets, with Bill Maher, Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro all talking about him positively.

According to the study, “It likely mattered in this case that it was “The Joe Rogan Experience” specifically that propelled discourse around UBI to mainstream political debate – particularly because the ideological diversity of Rogan’s guests may attract and engage a politically broad audience from which the ideas articulated on the show can spread.”

When Yang dropped out of the presidential race in 2020, Rogan talked about him on his podcast with journalist Melissa Chen. Rogan said, “He has some really interesting ideas and he’s so open minded. His perspectives are so uniquely non-politician like.” Rogan talked about the speculation then that Yang would possibly run for mayor in New York City, a race he has since entered, and Rogan surmised, “he could win that.”

Rogan added, “He’s so normal. He’s like a guy who runs some tech company or something. That’s what he feels like when I talk to him.

Rogan, who has said he is socially liberal but also has some traditionally conservative beliefs and identifies as being neither a Democrat or a Republican, also had other Democratic presidential candidates on his podcast, including Tulsi Gabbard and Senator Bernie Sanders. Rogan revealed on election day in November 2020 that he voted for Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen in the presidential election.

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