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Have There Always Been “Red States” and “Blue States”?

The terms "Red States" and "Blue States" emerged in the late 20th century, reflecting a modern political landscape. This color-coded system, now a staple of election seasons, has evolved with America's shifting ideologies. But the story behind these hues is as dynamic as the nation's history. What might a deeper look into the past reveal about our political colors?

In the United States, red, white, and blue co-existed peacefully on the country’s flag, and in patriotic songs, for years. After 2000, however, the meaning of blue and red became hopelessly attached to political ideology, thanks to television coverage of the presidential election that year.

After color TV became the norm in the late 1960s, political commentators used colors on maps to denote which states Republicans and Democrats had won. But the colors were not permanently linked with political parties from the start. In 1976, for example, ABC used yellow for Gerald Ford and blue for Jimmy Carter, and red for states where votes had not yet been tallied. However, during the contentious 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, where the outcome centered on a Florida recount, The New York Times and USA Today published county-by-county maps detailing the race. They used red for the Republican (Bush) and blue for the Democrat (Gore), and those designations have continued ever since.

Red state, blue state:

  • “I just decided red begins with ‘r,’ Republican begins with ‘r.’ It was a more natural association,” said Archie Tse, senior graphics editor for the Times. Paul Overberg, who designed the map for USA Today, said: “The reason I did it was because everybody was already doing it that way at that point.”

  • In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party color is blue, and the unofficial anthem of the Labour Party begins: “The people’s flag is deepest red.”

  • In 1980, NBC used red for Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter and blue for Republican challenger Ronald Reagan. Third-party candidate John Anderson was supposed to have his victories colored orange, but while he earned more than 6.6% of the popular vote, he didn’t win any states.

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    • The idea of Democratic blue states and Republican red states was only cemented after the 2000 presidential election.
      By: Kelpfish
      The idea of Democratic blue states and Republican red states was only cemented after the 2000 presidential election.