Here at Thinking Color we try to stay as far away from politics as possible in order to bring you the most interesting, unbiased, color stories we can. However, this week we thought we would pay tribute to the American electoral process with a bipartisan look at where the red state – blue state categories came from.
These over-simplified categories made their first appearance in conjunction with the nation’s first color T.V. channel, NBC, during the election of 1976. The network used this simple visual in order to show which states were going for Republican incumbent Gerald Ford and which were voting for Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter. Somewhat confusingly to modern voters the original color labels of the parties painted Republicans as blue and Democrats as red. The idea behind this unusual color choice was that the Republican Party was the party of the Union, whose soldiers wore blue, during the civil war.
As more T.V. networks switched to color they also adopted the red-state, blue-state categories. However, in a valiant attempt to make election night as confusing as possible none of the networks agreed on what color should represent Democrats and which should represent Republicans, although they all used red and blue.
This confusing set-up continued until what started, as a simple visual graphic took on a life of its own. Red and blue began to become shorthand for partisanship. Red and red states became a symbol for those areas of the country that were staunchly Republican while blue and blue states mirrored these political leanings for the Democrats. As these colors became symbols representing much more complicated issues the television networks organically got their acts together and all began to use red to represent Republicans and blue Democrats.