Fact

Which colors represent which parties has changed over the years.

The Origin of Red-State / Blue-State Politics

Today we think of Republicans as Red and Democrats as Blue, but that specific color scheme only came into use in the 2000’s. Neither party has an official color.[1][2]

Why red means Republican and blue means Democrat.

TIP: See an essay on color in politics.

FACT: America is a Federal Republic; with strong Democratic tradition. Our flag is Red, White, and Blue. The names of parties and colors have next to nothing to do with their government style. They are all gleaned from our power structure and flag.

The History of Party Colors in the United States

Prior to the United States presidential election of 2000, which party was Red and which was Blue was largely a matter of which color a news outlet chose. On the October 30, 2000, episode of the Today show, Tim Russert coined the terms “red state” and “blue state.”

As far back as the 1888 election blue was used to represent the northern Union states (Republicans in those days) and red the south, but this wasn’t consistent throughout time (see Origins of the color scheme). In the 70’s and 80’s (starting in 1976) the major networks starting using lighted maps to illustrate election results. Democrats were often coded blue and Republicans red, but it wasn’t consistent. This inconsistent coloring continued throughout the Clinton years and up to the Gore Vs. Bush. This can all be varied by old videos and articles.[3][4]

Why Were Different Colors Used?

Prior to the 2000’s colors were chosen for a variety of reasons. They include:

  • The flag is Red, White, and Blue. I think we can assume why no one wanted to overtly be “the white team.”
  • Every party would try to use the color blue as, especially after the Cold War, “no one wanted to be RED.” Thus, we’d often get yellow (see the Carter/Ford election video below).
  • In other cases, red was picked for liberals as that is the traditional international “liberal” color; blue was picked for conservatives.[5]

Today, when looking at documents produced after 2000, Democrats are typically coded blue. For instance, this color map of all past elections by state uses Blue to represent the Democratic Party and Red to Represent Republicans regardless of what color was used at the time.

Election Night 1976 Part 1

FACT: Historically each party would use the color blue, especially after the Cold War, as “no one wanted to be RED.” Red is traditionally associated with socialism and Communism, which are liberal.

“For years, both parties would do red and blue maps, but they always made the other guys red,” said Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News. “During the Cold War, who wanted to be red?” – From Smithsonianmag.com

Tim Russert Coined the Terms “Red State” and “Blue State” in 2000

According to the Washington Post, modern use of the terms “red state” to describe Republican-dominated states and “blue state” to describe Democratic-Party-dominated states were coined by journalist Tim Russert, during his televised coverage of the 2000 presidential election.[6][7]

NOTE: The idea that Tim Russert coined the terms has been widely repeated online, but I have yet to confirm this aspect of the factoid fully. I will try to find more evidence and add it to the page.

TIP: This truism should not be confused with the changing platforms of political parties. A lot changed over the years, not only the colors which news sources used for political parties. From Civil War Reconstruction on, the parties were factionalized, a series of complex changes ensued, and over the next 140 years, the Democrats got more progressive and Republicans more conservative.



Conclusion

Some younger people might assume Republicans have always been Red and Democrats Blue, some older people might wonder why the color of the Donkey and Elephant keep changing, in this case it would be the older folks who have it right. The colors changed over the years, and there is no official colors of the U.S. political parties.


Citations

  1. Red State, Blue State
  2. When Republicans Were Blue and Democrats Red
  3. Origins of the color scheme
  4. Ideas & Trends; One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State
  5. Political colour
  6. Tim Russert
  7. Red vs. Blue: A history of how we use political colors


"Republicans and Democrats Switched Colors" is tagged with: American Politics, United States of America, Voting


Vote Fact or Myth: "Republicans and Democrats Switched Colors"

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Lisa on

I am a Republican, but, I hate the color red! I think the next President, should make it a law that from now on, the color blue will represent the Republican again, and the Democratic party should be represented by the color red again.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

It would make more sense historically. In most countries “red” is liberal, this is why “the red scare”.

fishydude on

Red has always been the true color of democrats.
A “blue dog democrat” is what they used to call a conservative/libertarian leaning democrat.

Dee on

Blue has more or less always been the color of conservatives. It was probably the Democrat leaning news that changed the colors of the parties because blue has always been associated with “true blue” and they wanted people to think Democrats were the more truthful party. We all know now that the Democrats have been anything but truthful.

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

Well “blue blood” democrats are “conservative democrats” in the north east. Because as you say, generally blue is the color of conservatives and red the color of liberals (those commie “reds”). White is also the color of conservatives (the “whites” were the conservatives of Russia in the 1910s).

As for “true blue” it’s a play on words, the parties didn’t choose their colors. The news stations did in the 2000s. Really strange to think that the modern party symbolism is so recent, but honestly the factions in the current parties and their voter bases are relatively recent too.

We are so quick to fight over red team blue team, but we forget the starting line up and mascots have switched in some of our lifetimes. Odd. As for the quip about Democrats. That is opinion, funny, but opinion.