Red State vs. Blue State vs. Purple America

Sorry, a lot of politics tonight. I guess it’s all the news about President Ford.

Still, I had to share this. I don’t know how I missed it, but in all the debate about what it means to live in a “red state” vs. a “blue state”, I found an interesting graphic when browsing Wikipedia.

It all started with the link to the 1976 Election page.

I immediately noticed that this chart had the Democrats in Red, the Republicans in Blue – the opposite of the current color scheme in use. In fact, I then found this very interesting piece on the origins of the entire color scheme here.

Prior to the 2000 presidential election, there was no universally recognized color scheme to represent the parties. The practice of using colors to represent parties on electoral maps dates back at least as far as the 1950s, when such a format was employed within the Hammond series of historical atlases. Color-based schemes became more widespread with the adoption of color television in the 1960s and nearly ubiquitous with the advent of color in newspapers. Early on, the most common—though again, not universal—color scheme was to use red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. This was the color scheme employed by NBC—David Brinkley famously referred to the 1984 map showing Reagan’s 49-state landslide as a “sea of blue”, but this color scheme was also employed by most news magazines. CBS during this same period, however, used the opposite scheme—blue for Democrats, red for Republicans. ABC was less consistent than its elder network brothers; in at least two presidential elections during this time before the emergence of cable new outlets, ABC used yellow for one major party and blue for the other. As late as 1996, there was still no universal association of one color with one party.[2]; if anything, the majority of outlets in 1996 were using blue for the GOP and red for the Democrats.

But in 2000, for the first time, all major media outlets used the same colors for each party: Red for Republicans, blue for Democrats. Partly as a result of this first-time universal color-coding, the terms Red States and Blue States entered popular usage in the weeks following the 2000 presidential election. Additionally, the closeness of the disputed election kept the colored maps in the public view for longer than usual, and red and blue thus became fixed in the media and in many people’s minds.[3] Journalists began to routinely refer to “blue states” and “red states” even before the 2000 election was settled, such as The Atlantic’s cover story by David Brooks in the December 2001 issue entitled, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible.” Thus red and blue became fixed in the media and in many people’s minds [4] despite the fact that no “official” color choices had been made by the parties.

Fascinating.  So we owe the current “red state”, “blue state” terminology to:

  1. The invention of color TV
  2. The standardization of treatment in 2000 by the networks
  3. The decision to use the opposite treatment for liberal vs. conservative that the rest of the world uses (typical)

Probably the most interesting picture I found here was the link to Purple America:

As someone who has only participated in elections in either the SF Bay Area or Boston, it was nice to see that the nation as a whole, even now, is far more balanced than you might think.  People seem to quickly forget how shockingly close all of the last 4 elections have been.  Amnesia seems to be tied to your party squeaking out the win.

Anyway, just an intellectual tidbit for this evening.  I’ll be back to personal finance topics soon – those do seem to be the aggregate favorite for this blog.

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