Hillary Clinton famously characterized Donald Trump’s voters as a “basket of deplorables,” but she was wrong. Our friends, the British, have figured it out: Trump was elected not by deplorables, but by jams.
short for “Just About Managing,” is the new term has swept British
political discourse. They are defined as 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.
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.
of the British think tank Policy Exchange has written a thorough and
thoroughly wonky report on jams. For statistical purposes, he equates
jams with the middle half of the British class structure, sandwiched
between professional and managerial classes above, and unskilled workers
and those who live on social benefits, below.
What Frayne says
about jams certainly makes them sound a lot like Trump voters. They work
hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules. What they want is to see
“society run in a fair way.” American translation: They want to see that
the system is not rigged.
Like most people, jams vote more on
values than on policies. In public opinion polls, they emphasize four
values above all: Family, fairness, hard work, and decency. Equality and
freedom are also positives for them, but farther down the list.
plurality of British jams think that government could be a force for
good, if it would only 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
Much of Frayne’s report is devoted to a detailed
analysis of voting patterns. He finds that jams have less party loyalty
than those above or below them on the social scale. They do not ask
which party their candidates belong to, but rather, whose side they are
on. They no longer see the Labor party as their natural home base, but
rather, are ready opportunistically to vote Conservative or UKIP or
Scottish Nationalist depending on the issue of the day.
also finds that jams are more a rural than an urban phenomenon in the
UK, and that they constitute a majority of voters in swing
constituencies. All of this sounds very much like those middle American
counties where voters supported Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump or a
third party, or stayed home, in 2016.
Although Frayne tells us that politicians have paid too little attention to jams in the past, Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh
thinks that is changing rapidly. Something strange is happening to the
way we think and talk about need, says Ganesh. Brexit and Trump voters
are not at the very bottom of the 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. Theirs, he says, is
"the rage of dispossession rather than the rage of unique hardship."
are visibly responding to that anger. In their fear of again ending up
on the wrong side of populist voters, continues Ganesh, "the
politico-media world is going along with a reordering of moral
priorities whose principal victims stand to be the quantifiably,
unmistakably poor". The jams’ sheer weight of numbers, when multiplied
by the force of their anger, is not something that the poor can equal or
that politicians can withstand.
I agree with Ganesh that the
have-nots, in the US as in the UK, are going to see their political
clout seriously diminished in the new political order. But the real
contest on this side of the Atlantic, I think, is going to be between
the perceived needs of the jams and those of the truly wealthy. The jams
want economic security and better public services, while the wealthy,
eager for tax relief, want to cut public spending for education,
healthcare, and retirement benefits. The jams want better jobs and
better pay, while the wealthy want relief from regulation, from labor
unions, and from anything else that adds to their cost of doing
business. Yes, politicians are afraid of ending up on the wrong side of
populist voters, but their terror of ending up on the wrong side of the
donor class may outweigh even that.
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 is all the more likely if the Democratic party remains a
coalition of have-nots and coastal elites. If, instead, he lets his
promises fade into the usual Washington “jam tomorrow,” and if a
populist candidate breaks through on the left (as almost happened with
Bernie Sanders), Trump and Trumpism could be in trouble.
way, it seems that the jams, as a socio-political-economic class, have
become a power to recon with, here as much as in the UK. If so, we may
as well adopt this snappy new British term, thank you very much.
Reposted from Ed Dolan's Econ Blog at Economonitor.com