No, it Wasn’t the Deplorables. “Jams” Were the Ones Who Elected Trump

Hillary thought that Trump electors were a “basket of deplorables,” but a more careful look suggests that another group played a bigger role — the “Jams.”

“Jams,” short for “Just About Managing,” is a snappy new political term coined by our friends the Brits. Jams are a social class consisting of people who have jobs and a home, but little by way of savings or discretionary income; people who see themselves as precariously comfortable at best, with nothing to fall back on if adversity strikes. The instant popularity of the term may have something to do with the way it echoes another typically British political expression “jam tomorrow,” meaning an often made but never fulfilled promise.

Jams aren’t really deplorable at all. They vote on values, but not the values of racial hatred, male chauvinism, and jingoist nationalism. In public opinion polls, they emphasize four values above all: Family, fairness, hard work, and decency. (Equality, freedom, and faith are also positive values for jams, but farther down the list.)

A plurality of British jams think that government is potentially a force for good, although they also think it should do more to help ordinary working people. At the same time, a strong majority tell pollsters that politicians are not competent to run essential public services.

A strong majority of jams think that there is never any excuse for breaking the law and that those who do so deserve punishment rather than sympathy. They see human rights laws as a tool abused by lawyers to make spurious cases on behalf of criminals.

In Britain, as in the US, jams are more a rural than an urban phenomenon. They are the key voters in “swing constituencies” in the UK, just as they are in those middle American counties where voters supported Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump or a third party, or stayed home, in 2016. They have little party loyalty. They don’t ask their candidates what party they belong to, but whose side they are on.

Jams are not at the very bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, but the angriest are not always the worst off. Jams remember, or imagine remembering, an industrial golden age in which things were better. Politicians are visibly responding to that anger, in their fear of again ending up on the wrong side of populist voters, as the British political elite did with Brexit and American elites did with Trump. The jams’ sheer weight of numbers, when multiplied by the force of their anger, not something that the poor can equal or that politicians can withstand.

At the moment, Trump seems to have America’s Just About Managing class in the palm of his hand. Can he hold onto them? Yes, if he keeps his many campaign promises. If he does, or even seriously tries to do so, Trumpism could well become a lasting feature of American political landscape, much as Peronism did in Argentina. That would be all the more likely if the Democratic party remains a coalition of have-nots and coastal elites.

If, instead, Trump lets his promises fade into the usual Washington “jam tomorrow,” Trumpism could be in trouble. That would leave room for a populist candidate to break through on the left (as almost happened with Sanders).

Whichever way it goes, the jams are going play a critical role. We might as well have a term for them!

For a more detailed version with links to further reading, see this post at Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog.

Written by

Economist, Senior Fellow at Niskanen Center, Yale Ph.D. Interests include environment, health care policy, social safety net, economic freedom.

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