Red states and blue states

Red states and blue states

legend|#0000ff|States carried by the Democrat in all four elections

Red States and Blue States refer to those states of the United States of America whose residents predominantly vote for the Republican Party or Democratic Party presidential candidates, respectively. According to The Washington Post, the terms were coined by Tim Russert during his televised coverage of the 2000 presidential election. [cite web|url=| About Meet the Press|accessdate=2008-06-13] This was by no means the first election in 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 then, usage of the term has been expanded to differentiate between states being perceived as liberal and those perceived as conservative. A blue state may therefore be any state leaning towards the Democratic ticket while a red state may be any state leaning towards the Republican ticket.

This unofficial system used in the United States of America is a stark reversal of political colors in most other long-established democracies, where blue represents right wing and conservative parties, while red represents left wing, communist and socialist/socially liberal parties.

The divide

Although the Electoral College determines the Presidential election, a more precise measure of how the country actually voted may be better represented by either a county-by-county or a district-by-district map. By breaking the map down into smaller units (including many "blue counties" lying next to "red counties"), these maps tend to display many states with a purplish hue, thus demonstrating that an ostensibly "blue" or "red" state may in fact be closely divided. Note that election maps of all kinds are subject to errors of interpretation as described below.

These county-by-county and district-by-district maps reveal that the true nature of the divide is between urban areas/inner suburbs and suburbs/rural areas. For example, in the 2004 elections, even in "solidly Blue" states, the majority of voters in most rural counties and a smaller majority in most suburban areas voted for Republican George W. Bush, with some exceptions. And in "solidly Red" states, a majority of voters in most urban counties voted for Democrat John Kerry. And an even more detailed precinct-by-precinct breakdown demonstrates that, in many cases, large cities voted for Kerry, but their suburbs delivered their respective county to Bush.

Red states and Blue states have several demographic differences from each other. The association between colors and demographics was notably made in a column by Mike Barnicle, and reinforced in a controversial response from Paul Begala (though the association between demographics and voting patterns was well known before that).

In the 2004 elections both parties received at least 40% from all sizable socio-economic demographics, according to exit polling. In 2004, college graduates were split equally at 49% for both Kerry and Bush; those with postgraduate degrees voted for Kerry by a 10% margin and those with Bachelor's Degrees voted for Bush by a 6% margin. For household income, Kerry got a majority of households with less than $50,000 in annual income, and Bush got a majority households consisting of married couples and those with greater than $50,000 annual income. Bush held the more suburban and rural areas of both the red and blue states, while Kerry received the large majority of the urban city areas in all the states. Ralph Nader did not win any electoral college votes yet received 1% of the vote from high income households and holders of graduate degrees.cite web|url=| Election 2004|accessdate=2007-06-01]

SOURCE: CNN Exit polls 13,660 surveyed

Purple States

A purple state is a state that is more or less equally divided between the Republicans and Democrats. Fact|date=January 2008

The demographic and political applications of the terms have led to a temptation to presume this arbitrary classification is a clear-cut and fundamental cultural division. Given the general nature and common perception of the two parties, "red state" implies a conservative region or a more conservative type of American, and "blue state" implies a liberal region or a more liberal type of American. But the distinction between the two groups of states is hardly so simplistic. The analysis that suggests political, cultural, and demographic differences between the states is more accurate when applied to smaller geographical areas. Traditionally, the practice of designating a U.S. state as "red" or "blue" is based on the "winner-take-all" system employed for presidential elections by 48 of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. (Electoral law in Maine and Nebraska makes it possible for those states to split their electoral votes; however, to date, neither has actually done so.)

Despite the prevalent "winner-take-all" practice, the minority always gets a sizeable vote. Because of this, a third term has emerged, referring to these closely-divided states as purple states. Furthermore, it could be argued that all states are "purple" to varying degrees and that the "red vs. blue" division is far from an accurate description of US culture.

All states were consistent in voting for George W. Bush or his opponent in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections except for three: New Mexico (Gore in '00 and Bush in '04), Iowa (Gore in '00 and Bush in '04) and New Hampshire (Bush in '00 and Kerry in '04). The 2004 election showed two of these three states to be true to the presidential preferences of their respective regions, creating a greater regional separation; thus, an argument that the country is more divided from the 2000 election. All three of those states were very close in both elections.


thumb|300px|Cartogram of Electoral College results (votes as of 2008) of the past four Presidential elections (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004)">legend|#2300ff|States carried by the Democrat in all four electionsThe division between red states and blue states has triggered a pronounced introspection among blue staters and red staters. Feelings of cultural and political polarization, which have gained increased media attention since the 2004 election, have led to increased mutual feelings of alienation and enmity. These attitudes have led to the often jocular suggestion that a red state-blue state secession is in order. The Jesusland map is one such joke, a satirical map that redraws the U.S.-Canada border to reflect this sociopolitical schism.

Polarization is more evident on a county scale. Nearly half of U.S. voters resided in counties that voted for Bush or Kerry by 20 percentage points or more in 2004. By comparison, only a quarter of voters lived in such counties in 1976. []

The polarization has been present for only two close elections (2000 and 2004). In the 1996 election, 31 U.S. states were "blue" and 19 "red" (though at the time the current color scheme was not as universal as today). One trend that has been true for several election cycles is that states that vote Republican tend to be more rural (thus having fewer electoral votes) than states that vote Democratic.

Viewing the nation as divided into two camps ignores the largest single group of Americans, namely, those who don't vote at all. In the 2000 election only about 54 percent of eligible voters actually turned out to vote. In 2004, despite expensive get-out-the-vote campaigns by both ideological camps, the percentage who voted rose only a few points from the previous election. In fact, in 2004, an all-time record was set when more than 80 million eligible voters failed to vote; this number was far greater than the votes secured by either Bush or Kerry, by a substantial margin.

In fact, no Republican or Democratic nominee has attracted as much as 30 percent of eligible voters since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Map interpretation problems

There are several problems in creating and interpreting election maps that should be taken into account. Popular vote data is necessarily aggregated at several levels, such as counties and states, which are then colored to show election results. Maps of this type are called choropleth maps, which have several well known problems that can result in interpretation bias. One problem arises when areal units differ in size and significance, as is the case with election maps. These maps give extra visual weight to larger areal units, whether by county or state. This problem is compounded in that the units are not equally significant. A large county or state may have fewer voters than a small one, for example. Some maps attempt to account for this by using cartogram methods, but the resulting distortion makes such maps difficult to read.

Another problem relates to data classification. Election maps often use a two-class color scheme (red and blue), which results in a map that is easy to read but is highly generalized. Some maps use more classes, such as shades of red and blue to indicate the degree of election victory. These maps provide a more detailed picture, but have various problems association with classification of data. The cartographer must choose how many classes to use and how to break the data into those classes. While there are various techniques available, the choice is essentially arbitrary. The look of a map can vary significantly depending on the classification choices. The choices of color and shading likewise affect the map's appearance. Further, all election maps are subject to the interpretation error known as the ecological fallacy. [cite book |last= Martin |first= David |title= Geographic Information Systems: Socioeconomic Applications |year= 1996 |publisher= Routledge |isbn= 0415125715 |pages= p. 170;,]

Finally, there are problems associated with human perception. Large areas of color appear more saturated than small areas of the same color. A juxtaposition of differing colors and shades can result in contrast misperceptions. For example, an area shaded light red surrounded by areas shaded dark red will appear even lighter. Differing shades of red and blue compound this problem of perception. Because of this problem, cartographers have traditionally limited the number of classes so that it is always clear which class a color shade represents. Some election maps, however, have broken this tradition by simply coloring each areal unit with a red-blue mixture linked to voting ratio data. These "purple maps" are useful for showing the highly mixed nature of voting, but are extremely difficult to interpret in detail. The lack of clear classes make these purple maps highly prone to the problems of color perception described above. All these points should be taken into account when looking at election maps.

Origins of current color scheme

Prior to the 2000 presidential election, there was no universally recognized color scheme to represent political parties in the United States. 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 Roosevelt's 1904 electoral victory. [ [ July 26, 1908, 100 Years Ago Today by Frank Herron] ] Later, 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. 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 a "sea of blue". [ [ Ideas & Trends; One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State - New York Times ] ] 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. [ [ Cool Blue Reason ] ] 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. [] [ [ Those Special Election Bells, Whistles and, Yes, Some Numbers, Too - New York Times ] ] [ [ A Divided Government Remains, and With It the Prospect of Further Combat - New York Times ] ]

In 2000, for the first time, all major electronic media outlets used the same colors for each party. Partly as a result of this near-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. Journalists began to routinely refer to "blue states" and "red states," even before the 2000 election was settled.Fact|date=October 2008 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." 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.



The choice of colors in this divide is counter-intuitive to many international observers.Fact|date=September 2008 Throughout the world red is commonly the designated color for parties representing labor, socialist, communist, and/or liberal interests, [] [] which in the United States would be more closely correlated with the Democratic Party. Similarly, blue is used in these countries to depict conservative parties which in the case of the United States would be a color more suitable for the Republicans. For example, in Canada party colors are deeply ingrained and historic and have been unchanged since the late nineteenth century. The Liberal Party of Canada has long used red and the Conservative Party of Canada has long used blue, and in fact the phrases "Liberal red" and "Tory blue" are a part of the national lexicon, as is Red Tory, denoting Conservative members who are social moderates. Similarly, the symbol of Britain's Labour Party is a red rose (and the socialist song "The Red Flag" is still sung at party conferences), while the British Conservatives are traditionally associated with the color blue. However, as the current US scheme is so ingrained in the American election system, foreign sources who cover US elections, such as the BBC, "Der Spiegel" and "El Mundo" follow with the red-Republican, blue-Democrat scheme for US elections. [ [ Bbc News ] ] [ [,5532,7245,00.html Amerika wählt - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten ] ] [ [ | ELECCIONES EEUU 2004 ] ]


Moreover, the color scheme is so accepted that both the Republican and Democratic Parties' websites feature the colors red and blue, respectively, in their website banners and prominently on their sites overall. [ [ Republican • National • Committee ] ] [ [ The Democratic Party ] ] On the other hand, both 2008 Presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama [ [ Barack Obama] ] and Republican John McCain, [ [ John McCain] ] feature almost the same shade of blue on their websites. McCain's site shows a particular scarcity of red.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made use of the color scheme when it launched a national "Red to Blue Program" in 2006. [] Otherwise the color scheme is unofficial and informal, but is widely recognized by media and commentators. Partisan supporters now often use the colors for promotional materials and campaign merchandise.

The scheme has found acceptance and implementation from the US Federal Government, as the Federal Elections Commission report for the 2004 US Presidential Election uses the red-Republican blue-Democrat scheme for its electoral map. [ [ Federal Elections 2004 ] ]


The paradigm has come under criticism on a number of fronts. Many argue that the usefulness of assigning partisanship to states is only really useful as it pertains to the Electoral College, primarily a winner-take-all system of elections (currently, Maine and Nebraska allow for electoral votes to be split between tickets if the vote tallies in individual districts are different).

The Republican and Democratic parties within a particular state may have a platform that departs from that of the national party, sometimes leading that state to favor one party in state and local elections and the other in Presidential elections. This is most evident in the Southern United States where the state Democratic parties tend to be more conservative than the national party. Arkansas and West Virginia were won by George W. Bush in 2004, but Democrats make up the majority of officeholders in those states; similarly, North Carolina went solidly for Bush in both 2000 and 2004, but its governor is a Democrat and both houses of its legislature have Democratic majorities. The converse can also be true, as in the case of Maine, which has two Republican senators but voted for John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election.

Some conservatives have also been wary of using the "red state" term to describe conservative or Republican-voting electorates, as the term had previously most often been associated with socialist states, like the Soviet Union, Cuba, China, and East Germany.

In his keynote address before the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama rejected the division of the United States into red states and blue states, saying, "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. ... We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."cite news | first=Barack | last=Obama | title=Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention | format=text or [ video] | date=July 27, 2004 | url= | | accessdate=2008-04-04]

In April 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain predicted that the 2008 presidential election would not follow the red state/blue state pattern, saying, "I'm not sure that the old red state, blue state scenario that prevailed for the last several elections works. I think most of these states that we have either red or blue are going to be up for grabs." [cite interview |last=McCain |first=John |subjectlink=John McCain |interviewer=Chris Wallace |callsign =Fox News |city=Washington, DC |date=2008-04-06 |program=Fox News Sunday |accessdate=2008-04-08]

ee also

*Swing state
*United States presidential election maps
*Purple America
*Jesusland map
*Political ideologies in the United States


External links

* [ RedState] A politically conservative site using the "Red State" identity.
* [,673200.aspx Living Blue in the Red States] edited by David Starkey
* [ The Urban Archipelago] by The Stranger
* [ Blue is the New Green] Series of US maps showing the correlation of financial and socio-economic metrics to the blue and red states
* [ Purple States] , Gives Americans -- of all backgrounds and beliefs, ages and affinities, red and the blue and the in-between -- a chance to experience and interpret politics for themselves.
* [ Maps and cartograms of the 2004 presidential election results] , adjusting Red State/ Blue State maps for voting population rather than geographic area alone.
* [ City Ranks] is a Google Maps mashup showing the population density in an interactive map.
* [ One Nation, Slightly Divisible - David Brooks] (subscription required)
*Washington Post series:
** [ For a Conservative, Life is Sweet in Sugar Land, Tex.]
** [ A Liberal Life in the City by the Bay]
* [ Federal Review Composite Poll - 2004 Electoral College Projection]
* [ Washington Post "Elephants Are Red, Donkeys Are Blue"]
* [ "One Fate, Two Fates, Red States, Blue States"]
* [ CNN "Learn the signs of your political colors" from September 2001]
* [ Election maps from December, 2000]
* [ Choosing colors based on incumbent vs. challenger victory from November, 2004]
* []
* [ The Honky Tonk G
* [ Blue States Website] Blue States
* [] American Feud: A History of Conservatives and Liberals

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