In the first episode of the newly relaunched sitcom Roseanne, we learn that Roseanne Conner, like the actress who plays her Roseanne Barr, is a Donald Trump supporter.
The news struck some longtime fans of the shows as odd. During the original run, Roseanne Conner snickered at the idea of lowering taxes for businesses and paying workers non-union wages. The show also won accolades for how it handled LGBT storylines and promoted feminism.
Barr herself attended Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration.
How could a show that was considered progressive during its time now have a main character that backs Trump?
It turns out, Conner supporting Trump in 2018 is one of the most realistic political evolutions on television.
Back in the 1990s, a voter like Conner would very likely have been a Clinton voter. The Conners are a working class (i.e. non-college educated) white family living in the industrial Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin). During Roseanne’s final original season from 1996-1997, voters who met this description cast their ballots for Bill Clinton by an 11 percentage point margin in the 1996 Los Angeles Times exit poll. Clinton won this subgroup on the way to carrying every Midwest state but Indiana.
Political alliances in the Midwest have changed considerably since that time. Hillary Clinton lost the entire industrial Midwest except for Illinois in 2016. The reason is that she got crushed among voters who met the description of the Conners. She lost white voters without a college degree in the industrial Midwest by about 30 percentage points according to exit polling data. Based on other data, the actual margin may have been slightly smaller, but this is in the correct ballpark. It’s a 40 point swing from 1996.
Losing the “Conner vote” by anywhere near 30 points is electorally deadly industrial Midwest considering how many voters look like the Conners. White working class voters make up 50% of the electorate in these states, according to the 2016 Current Population Survey.
Indeed, losing the “Conner vote” by such a large margin was perhaps the biggest problem of the Clinton campaign in 2016. Clinton bet her lot with college educated white and nonwhite voters. Now, Clinton definitely did better than her husband did among college educated voters, but they make up only about a third of voters in the Midwest. And because Clinton was seemingly so concentrated on winning nonwhite and college educated white voters, she seemed to lose sight of the group in the industrial Midwest that was the largest chunk of voters. In fact, the non-college educated white voters is still larger nationally than either the college-educated white vote or non-white voting bloc.
Given this, it would have been odd to reboot Roseanne, tackle politics and not feature a character who voted for Trump over Clinton in 2016.