Entry in progress—B.P.
Wikipedia: Red state and blue state
The terms “red states” and “blue states” came into use in 2000 to refer to those states of the United States whose residents predominantly vote for the Republican Party or Democratic Party presidential candidates, respectively. A blue state tends to vote for the Democratic Party, and a red state tends to vote for the Republican Party, although the colors were often reversed or different colors used before the 2000 election. According to The Washington Post, the terms were coined by television journalist Tim Russert during his televised coverage of the 2000 presidential election; that was not the first election during which the news media used colored maps to graphically depict voter preferences in the various states, but it was the first time a standard color scheme took hold. Since 2000, usage of the term has been expanded to differentiate between states being typically liberal and those typically conservative.
This unofficial system of political colors used in the United States is the reverse of that in most other long-established democracies, where blue represents right-wing and conservative parties, while red represents left-wing and socialist parties.
Origins of current color scheme
Before the 2000 presidential election, there was no universally recognized color scheme to represent political parties in the United States. In fact, the color scheme was often reversed, in line with historical European associations (red was used for left-leaning parties).
There is some historical use of blue for Democrats and red for Republicans: in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Texas county election boards used color coding to help Spanish speakers and illiterates identify the parties; however, this system was not applied consistently in Texas and was not picked up on a national level.
The practice of using colors to represent parties on electoral maps dates back at least as far as 1908, when The New York Times printed a special color map using yellow and blue to detail Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 electoral victory. In the 1950s, color-coding as 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. A three-color scheme: red, white and blue, the colors of the U.S. flag, makes sense, as the third color, white, is useful in depicting maps showing states that are “undecided” in the polls and in election-night television coverage.
Early on, some channels used a scheme of red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. The first television news network to use colors to depict the states won by presidential candidates was NBC. In 1976, John Chancellor, the anchorman for the NBC Nightly News, asked his network’s engineers to construct a large electronic map of the USA. The map was placed in the network’s election-night news studio. If Jimmy Carter, the Democratic candidate that year, won a state it would light up in red; if Gerald Ford, the Republican, carried a state it would light up in blue. The feature proved to be so popular that four years later all three major television networks would use colors to designate the states won by the presidential candidates on Election Night. NBC continued to use the color scheme employed in 1976 for several years; NBC newsman David Brinkley famously referred to the 1980 election map as showing Ronald Reagan’s 44-state landslide as resembling a “suburban swimming pool”. CBS, from 1984 on, used the opposite scheme: blue for Democrats, red for Republicans. ABC used yellow for one major party and blue for the other in 1976. However, in 1980 and 1984, ABC used red for Republicans and blue for Democrats. As late as 1996, there was still no universal association of one color with one party. If anything, by 1996, color schemes were relatively 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 Magazine and the Washington Post used an opposite scheme.
In the days following the protracted 2000 election, 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. On Election Night that year there was no coordinated effort to code Democratic states blue and Republican states red; the association gradually emerged. Partly as a result of this eventual and near-universal color-coding, the terms “red states” and “blue states” entered popular usage in the weeks following the 2000 presidential election. Journalists began to routinely refer to “blue states” and “red states,” even before the 2000 election was settled. After the results were final, journalists stuck with the color scheme, as the December 2001 The Atlantic‘s cover story by David Brooks entitled, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible” illustrated. Thus, red and blue became fixed in the media and in many people’s minds, despite the fact that no “official” color choices had been made by the parties.
Despite the domestic media’s adoption of this color scheme, many commentators and journalists still colloquially refer to communists as “reds” (example: “Red China” - meaning Communist China).
Thinking about Tim Russert, Red States and Blue States
June 17, 2008
By Ben Zimmer
With the advent of color television, television news reporters have greatly relied on color-coded electoral maps during coverage of presidential election returns every four years. As Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly explained in 2004, the networks arrived at a formula for assigning colors to political parties for election-night coverage so that there would be no perception of favoritism in the color coding. Since 1976, the color of the incumbent party has alternated:
Blue = Ford
Red = Carter
Red = Carter
Blue = Reagan
Blue = Reagan
Red = Mondale
Red = Bush
Blue = Dukakis
Blue = Bush
Red = Clinton
Red = Clinton
Blue = Dole
Blue = Gore
Red = Bush
Red = Bush
Blue = Kerry
Because of this system, it just so happens that Democrats were assigned the color red and Republicans blue five out of six times between 1976 and 1996. But 2000 and 2004 had blue for Democrats and red for Republicans, and those have been the election years in which the “red state” vs. “blue state” distinction has been popularized.
When the Washington Post investigated the origins of the “red/blue state” phenomenon, they gave Tim Russert credit for first using it on television in 2000. On NBC’s “Today” show, about a week before the general election, Russert discussed projections with the host Matt Lauer using a color-coded map. Russert asked aloud how George W. Bush would “get those remaining 61 electoral red states, if you will?” Russert, for his part, didn’t think he was the original coiner. But as William Safire describes in the new edition of his Political Dictionary, Russert was “the leading popularizer as the blue-Democrat, red-Republican assignment took hold nationally” on the topsy-turvy election night of 2000.
By 2004, “red states” and “blue states,” along with toss-up “purple states,” became firmly entrenched in political parlance, so much so that the American Dialect Society selected red/blue/purple state as their Word of the Year.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
blue state, n. and adj.
A. n. A state (projected to be) won by the Democratic candidate in a presidential election. More generally: a Democratic state; a state which tends to vote Democrat. Cf. RED STATE n. 2.
2000 NBC News: Today Show (transcript) (Nexis) 30 Oct., (Electoral map of the United States shown.) Lauer: The red states we have here, you have going..for George Bush, the blue states for Al Gore.
2000 Washington Post 11 Nov. A27/1 Why not let Gore be the president of the United States of America to include all the blue states east of the Mississippi?
2004 N.Y. Mag. 9 Aug. 22/2 New York has always felt like a nation apart. In a country that grows ever redder, it is the bluest of blue cities in one of the bluest of blue states, with the eccentrics to match.
B. adj. Of, relating to, or characteristic of blue states or their residents; Democratic.
2001 Time 5 Mar. 67/3 My blue-state commute to New York City.
red state, n. and adj.
1. A Communist state. Cf. RED adj. 17.
1923 Chicago Daily Tribune 18 Oct. 1/3 (heading), 2 red states defy German dictator rule.
1954 Jrnl. Polit. 16 44 Those who control our destinies are greatly afraid of the power of first one huge Red state, the Soviet Union, and then of a second, China.
2. U.S. Polit. A state (projected to be) won by the Republican candidate in a presidential election. More generally: a Republican state; a state which tends to vote Republican. Cf. BLUE STATE n.
[With reference to the colour used on maps in televised coverage of the 2000 U.S. presidential election to distinguish the states won by the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, with blue being used for the states won by the Democratic candidate. The colour designation is an arbitrary one, and indeed the attribution of the two colours had been reversed in media coverage of various elections prior to 2000.]
2000 NBC News: Today Show (transcript) (Nexis) 30 Oct., (Electoral map of the United States shown.) Lauer: The red states we have here, you have going..for George Bush, the blue states for Al Gore… Russert:..So how does he get those remaining 61 electoral red states, if you will?.. Bush desperately needs these 18 electoral votes in Michigan.
2000 Washington Post 11 Nov. A27/1 Bush could be the president of the Confederate States of America, to include all the red states on both sides of the Mississippi.
2001 N.Y. Mag. 1 Oct. 18 [He]..wrote adoringly of the humble red states that are behind the president, as opposed to the ‘decadent’ blue states.
B. adj. U.S. Polit. Of, relating to, or characteristic of red states (sense A. 2) or their residents; Republican.
2001 B. WILLIAMS in MSNBC (transcript) (Nexis) 27 Feb., It’s a red state president reaching out to a blue state tonight.
2003 Washington Post (Electronic ed.) 10 Aug. B1 If you debate when to take your first buck in deer-hunting season, you are red-state.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Sunday, January 24, 2010 • Permalink