Skip to navigationSkip to content
THE CONNERS

The economics and politics of “Roseanne” are incredibly realistic

The actress Roseanne Barr at a premier.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
See ya.
By Dan Kopf
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Comedian and actress Roseanne Barr is a Trump supporter. Roseanne, Barr’s hit show about a working-class family that originally aired from 1988 to 1997, returned last week to big ratings. Part of the show’s surprise success might be because the reboot of Roseanne Conner, Barr’s fictional avatar, is also a Trump supporter.

In a recent interview, Barr told the New York Times (paywall), that her character’s support for Trump is realistic. “I think working-class people were pissed off about Clinton and NAFTA…” she said. “That’s what broke all the unions and we lost all our jobs, so I think that’s a large part of why they voted for Trump because they didn’t want to see it continue, where our jobs are shipped away…”

On the show, Roseanne Conner explains her vote more simply. “He talked about jobs—he said he said he’d shake things up,” she tells her liberal sister Jackie, played by Laurie Metcalf.

But how realistic is that portrayal? Are people like the Conners actually suffering economically? Are they more likely to support Trump?

The Conners live in the fictional town of Lanford. Barr recently told the Hollywood Reporter that Lanford is based on Elgin, Illinois, a town of about 100,000 people an hour outside of Chicago.

In the show’s first season, Roseanne works at the fictional manufacturing plant Wellman Plastics. This was a reasonable job for her to have. In 1990, about 23% of people in Elgin, Illinois worked in manufacturing—roughly 50% higher than the national average at the time. Like Roseanne’s character, most of the people working in manufacturing did not have college degrees, yet many of these jobs paid decently and had good benefits.

Today, the share of jobs in manufacturing in Elgin is down to 14%. While the real-life Roseanne contends that most of those jobs were “shipped away,” the reality is that, while some of them did move overseas, most were replaced by automation. The US manufacturing sector produces far more today than it did in 1990. It just needs fewer people to do so.

Most of the jobs created in Elgin since 1990 have been in the service sector. On the show, fiction followed reality. Roseanne worked as a waitress in later seasons.

Throughout the original run of Roseanne, the Conners were struggling financially. Today, it seems things may have gotten worse. In one of the reboot’s first scenes, Roseanne and her husband Dan discuss their poor health coverage. “Our insurance doesn’t cover what it used to,” says Dan. “So I get half the drugs for twice the price.”

This too mirrors reality. According to a Quartz analysis, the household income led by a person 25-54 without a college degree fell from about $73,000 in 1990 (2016 dollars) to about $58,000 from 2012-2016. At the same time, households led by someone with a college degree saw their incomes increase to about $122,000 from $106,000.

So would Roseanne Conner support Trump? It’s tough to say, but probably.

Overall, people in Illinois’ Kane County, where Elgin sits, have recently gone for Democrats. Republicans consistently carried the county from 1980 to 2004, but Democrats won it in the past three elections. That’s likely because the area is becoming increasingly Hispanic and Asian—groups that typically support Democrats.

Yet the Conners, as whites without college degrees, do fall into the cohort most likely to vote for Trump. Trump was more popular with this group than any presidential candidate since 1980, and many analysts believe it was his popularity with this group that swung the election. In Illinois, 60% of whites without college degrees voted for Trump, compared with 33% for Clinton. (Roseanne’s sister Jackie reveals that she voted for Jill Stein, which would make her among the only 1% of this group who did so.)

Roseanne has long been hailed for its realism—according to our analysis, rightfully so. People like the Conners are hurting economically, and many of them did turn to Trump hoping he would “shake things up.”

Either way, there is one real-life person pleased with the show’s reboot. The New York Times reported that Donald Trump called Barr to personally congratulate her on Roseanne’s success, and to thank her for her support.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.