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article imageThe origins of the Red and Blue state colors on election maps

By Karen Graham     Sep 29, 2020 in Politics
In U.S. presidential elections, red states and blue states have referred to states whose voters predominantly favor the Republican party (red) or Democratic party (blue), presidential candidates. But when did we start using color designations?
Looking at modern-day elections, at least since 2000, the terms red state and blue state have grown to differentiate between states that are perceived as being either liberal, or conservative.
Liberals usually refers to Democrats who believe in civil liberty and equality with support for social justice and a mixed economy. According to Ian Adams, all American parties are "liberal and always have been, at least in the "classical sense," like the term is used in Europe.
Conservatives or Republicans, on the other hand, support a political and social philosophy characterized by respect for American traditions, republicanism, limited government, support for Christian values, pro-business, opposition to trade unions, strong national defense, and free trade.
Democrat Joe Biden goes into his first debate with Republican Donald Trump with recent experience fr...
Democrat Joe Biden goes into his first debate with Republican Donald Trump with recent experience from the primaries
However, it is important to understand that all states have both liberals and conservatives, and only appear blue/red on the electoral map on our television screens because of the winner-take-all system used by most states in the Electoral College.
Origins of the color scheme
Historically, and up through the 20th century, political map-makers used blue to represent the modern-day Republicans, as well as the earlier Federalist Party.
This color designation is believed to have been a holdover from the Civil War. At that time in history, the predominantly Republican north was considered "blue." And it just so happens that a popular map sold at that time came with a blue pencil so that the user could mark Confederate troop movements, while red was for the union.
In the 1888 presidential election, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison used maps that coded blue for the Republicans, the color was seen as representing the Union and "Lincoln's Party," and red for the Democrats.
The American flag that was raised by firefighters above the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Tr...
The American flag that was raised by firefighters above the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 2001 is displayed for the first time at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Spencer Platt, Getty/AFP/File
But keep in mind that at that time, the political parties had no official colors, and used the red and blue of the colors of the American flag interchangeably. The white color was not used because it was "unsuitable for printing."
In 1908, The New York Times printed a special color map, using blue for Democrats and yellow for Republicans, to detail Theodore Roosevelt's 1904 electoral victory, while a color supplement of the Washington Post used red for Republican-leaning states, blue for Democratic-leaning states, yellow for "doubtful" states and green for territories that had no presidential vote.
Anyway, over the years, the color schemes on election maps changed at the whimsey of the map maker, and by the time color television came to America in late 1950s and early 1960s, all the television stations started using various color combinations to represent a particular political party.
2000 Electoral College Map
2000 Electoral College Map
United States Geological Survey
By 1996, color schemes were fairly mixed, as CNN, CBS, ABC, and The New York Times referred to Democratic states with the color blue and Republican ones as red, while Time and The Washington Post used the opposite scheme. But the 2000 presidential election changed all of this.
The highly contested election results in the state of Florida required that a recount be done, so the election news from Florida was on all the television news channels until the middle of December that year. All the major media outlets began conforming to the same color scheme because the electoral map was continually in view, and conformity made for easy and instant viewer comprehension.
And so it was that red and blue became fixed in the media and in many people's minds, despite the fact that the Democratic and Republican parties had not officially chosen colors.
More about Red and blie states, Elections, Republicans, Democrats, Politics
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