Why Red and Blue for Political Parties?

By |2018-11-11T17:01:25-06:00November 12th, 2018|Make Me Think Monday|0 Comments

Mid-term Election 2018 campaigning is over. No more political robocalls. No more political ads. Are you as relieved as I am?

There’s a no politics policy here on the blog so we’re not discussing election results.

Instead, we’re going to look at how color designations for the two political affiliations came into being.

So why use red and blue colors to identify political affiliations? The simple answer is those colors project more clearly on screens, but there is more to the story.

Most of us are so accustomed to watching the United States map turn red or blue on our television screens as election returns are tallied we forget for many decades television broadcasts were black-and-white and color didn’t matter. A check mark beside the totaled vote indicated the winner.

Also remember for the first 40-plus presidential races newspapers were the only means of relaying results. There was no television!


But, as you can see on this chart from Philip Bump’s article in The Fix, prior to 1988, networks chose whatever color they wanted to designate state wins by political party. Red designated Democratic wins and blue or yellow Republican wins.

By 1992, networks switched the color designations, settling on red-for-Republican, blue-for-Democrat. That assignment solidified with the historic election of 2000 and all the missing chads.

For those too young to remember that election, Al Gore won Florida and then he didn’t; George Bush won Florida and then he didn’t.

For weeks, the public had no idea who the next president would be.

The media spent hours upon hours discussing maps of the states and speculating how Bush or Gore might win. Commentator discussions centered on election night maps. States that voted Republican were colored red and states voting Democratic noted in blue.

The shorthand usage of the specific color simplified reporting. Red states meant Republican electoral votes and blue states meant Democratic electoral votes. The party color association became firmly established.

Nothing prevents the colors from changing, but it’s become so familiar there’s no reason to think it will. Not when election night audiences understand the code.

Want to read more history: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/11/08/red-vs-blue-a-brief-history-of-how-we-use-political-colors