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Roseanne Barr reinforces myth that working-class voters elected Trump

Actress Roseanne Barr arrives at the 75th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills on Jan. 7. (Reuters)

Much of the 2020 talk this week has been focused on media mogul Oprah Winfrey following her rousing speech at Sunday's Golden Globe Awards. But actress Roseanne Barr said she could make a better president than Winfrey.

When asked if she'd support Winfrey in 2020, Barr, a vocal supporter of President Trump, told the Hollywood Reporter:

“I do love Oprah. Of course, I love Oprah like everybody else. But you know what? I think it was time for us as a country to shake things up and, you know, try something different,” she said, referring to her support of Trump.
“What about Susan Sarandon for president?” another reporter asked.
“Actually, I think I'd be a better president than Oprah and Susan Sarandon, probably even President Trump. And I did run in 2012,” she said.

Barr grew up in a working-class household in Utah before becoming the second-highest-paid woman in television at one point — after Winfrey. After losing the 2012 nomination for the Green Party to Jill Stein, she backed the Republican nominee four years later. Her character on “Roseanne,” a hit sitcom that is returning to television this spring, also supported the current president.

“I’ve always attempted to portray a realistic portrait of the American people and working-class people. And in fact, it was working-class people who elected Trump, so I felt that yeah, that was very real, and something that needed to be discussed, and especially about polarization in the family and people actually hating other people for the way they voted, which I feel is not American.”
After two decades off the air, "Roseanne" returns to ABC on March 27, 2018. Here's some of what we know about the reboot. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Working-class voters are usually defined as people without college degrees. And there's no doubt that many working-class voters played a key role in Trump's presidential victory, especially the white working class, but Barr is leaving out some key points in what happened in 2016.

Network exit polls show that the majority of voters without college degrees backed Trump, but lacking a college degree is not always the same as being "working-class."

The American National Election reports that nearly 60 percent of white Trump supporters without college degrees were in the top half of the income distribution. In fact, 1 in 5 white Trump voters without a college degree live in households where the income exceeds $100,000.

Duke University professor Nicholas Carnes and Vanderbilt University professor Noam Lupu wrote for The Post following the election:

Observers have often used the education gap to conjure images of poor people flocking to Trump, but the truth is, many of the people without college degrees who voted for Trump were from middle- and high-income households. That’s the basic problem with using education to measure the working class.
In short, the narrative that attributes Trump’s victory to a 'coalition of mostly blue-collar white and working-class voters' just doesn’t square with the 2016 election data. According to the election study, white non-Hispanic voters without college degrees making below the median household income made up only 25 percent of Trump voters. That’s a far cry from the working-class-fueled victory many journalists have imagined.

And data suggests that there were more affluent Americans living and working in major cities on the coasts that were attracted to his message as well.

In the general election, about two-thirds of Trump supporters came from households making more than $50,000 a year.

What's also true is that the majority of voters from households making less than $50,000 voted for Clinton, according to CNN exit polls -- and significant percentages of those working-class voters were Latino and black. This is something that Democrats interested in a potential Winfrey candidacy have noted and what Barr misses.

It is clear that Trump was the voice for a lot of Americans who look like Barr's character on her television show. But in trying to truly understand Trump voters, and particularly his base, it may be best to leave caricatures for Hollywood television shows.