The midwest is red?

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Every once in a while, it strikes me as odd that "red" has come to mean "right wing" in U.S. politics. From this morning's headlines: "Election 2010: Things are starting to look red";"Republicans make it a red November"; "River of Red Buries the Blue"; "Hoosier State Turns Red"; "Republican red tide seeps into Maryland"; "California Voters Turn Back the Angry Red Tide".

The OED's sense A.17. for red is glossed "Originally: revolutionary; republican; anarchistic. Later: communist, socialist; spec. of or relating to the Soviet Union". The citations, ironically, begin with a reference to the "Red Republicans" of the 1848 Paris uprising:

1848 Illustr. London News 1 July 415/1 The ‘Red Republicans’ have justified their name. They have filled the streets of Paris with blood. [1849 Tait's Mag. 16 402/2 Germany itself is red with Socialism and a desire for Republicanism.] 1864 Spectator 16 Apr. 443/2 England is not Red..but she does sympathise heartily with Garibaldi's immediate ends. 1883 Pall Mall Gaz. 2 Feb. 1/2 The Dynamitards have not secured the return of a single deputy even for the ‘reddest’ constituency in France. 1920 Blackwood's Mag. Sept. 404/2 The Red Government, still bent upon the destruction of Europe, was..recognised. 1927 W. E. COLLINSON Contemp. Eng. 85 The spread of the Bolshevistic propaganda has led to the fear, lest Labour should go red. 1958 Spectator 6 June 723/2 There are still hundreds of writers in gaol all over the Red Empire. 1995 R. JEFFREYS-JONES Changing Differences vii. 110 Within a short space Smith had been depicted as a scarlet woman and as a Red politician..

Similarly, the noun sense B.15. is "Originally: a political radical, as a republican, anarchist, or socialist. Now chiefly: a communist; a radical socialist; spec. (now hist.) a Russian Bolshevik; a citizen or supporter of the Soviet Union":

1851 Punch 20 245/2, I dreamt that I stood in the Crystal Halls, With Chartists and Reds at my side. 1858 Harper's Mag. Apr. 704/2 The Reds rejoice in that measure of distress which can be relieved only by the guillotine. 1892 MRS. H. WARD David Grieve II. 349 My father was a Red — an Anarchist. 1928 D. L. SAYERS Lord Peter views Body iii. 44 I'm a Tory, if anything. I'm certainly not a Red. 1957 Economist 7 Dec. 882/2 Dr Villeda..has been at pains to show the Americans that he is no red. 1976 C. BERMANT Coming Home I. i. 16 There came the depredations of the Russian civil war, first from the Reds then the Whites. 2001 J. ELLROY Cold Six Thousand cii. 553 He don't take no shit from the Reds in Vietnam.

And then there's the anthem of the Red Guards era in China, 东方红 ("The East is Red"):

The east is red, the sun is rising.
China has brought forth a Mao Zedong.
He works for the people's welfare.
Hurrah, He is the people's great savior!

Not to speak of "The Red Flag", which is more about conviction in the face of sacrifice than any particular political ideals, but has traditionally been the anthem of the British Labour Party:

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr'd dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

Ben Zimmer did his usual authoritative job of surveying the history here:

…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 [...]

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.

It's hard to believe that something so reflexive is so recent, but apparently it is.



59 Comments

  1. GeorgeW said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:08 am

    I have thought that whoever devised the scheme (apparently Tim Russert), the idea was to utilize 'American' colors and, in order to avoid the association with leftist, communists, etc., red was assigned to the political right.

  2. Mark P said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:08 am

    I can't necessarily trust my memory about it, but certainly 40 or 50 years ago "red" meant "communist" in the US. Today the usage seems to be most common on TV. Maybe that's because of the requirement for a visual indication of how a state or region is going politically. A primary color is good, but green already has a meaning. Maybe blue was chosen for Democrats (not all of whom are left leaning) because red would have been considered an editorial comment.

  3. Jonathan Badger said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:26 am

    Exactly — The idea was to use the American colors of Red, White, and Blue. Obviously, White is a bit hard to use (it looks like you've just left the area uncolored), and conservatives have traditionally called the Democrats communist/socialist, so using red for them would be seen as feeding into this slur, so the only reasonable choice would be use blue for them and red for the Republicans (who nobody could accuse of being communist)

  4. Leonardo Boiko said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:31 am

    So the Republicans were deliberated called red because they aren’t reds?

  5. Derek M. said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:35 am

    It's not just recent for the United States. The rest of the world continues to align its more conservative or right-leaning political party with the color blue and its more liberal or left-leaning political party with the color red.

    In Canada, the right-leaning Conservative Party is blue; the left-leaning Liberal Party is red.

    In the United Kingdom, the right-leaning Conservative Party is blue; the left-leaning Labour Party is red.

    In Australia, the right-leaning Liberal Party is blue; the left-leaning Labor Party is red.

    In New Zealand, the right-leaning National Party is blue; the left-leaning Labour Party is red.

    In France, the right-leaning Union for a Popular Movement is blue; the left-leaning Socialist Party is red.

    In Spain, the right-leaning People's Party is blue; the left-leaning Socialist Workers' Party is red

    There are others that may not necessarily fit the mold because they don't use a strict blue-red coloring system, but red still tends to be affiliated with the left-leaning parties (e.g., the Democratic Party in Japan, the Social Democratic Party in Germany), and blue still tends to be affiliated with the right-leaning parties (e.g., People of Freedom in Italy).

  6. GeorgeW said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:35 am

    Jonathan Badger: Yes, had red been assigned to Democrats, even inadvertently, I am certain there would have been serious protests. And, as you say, no one would associate Republicans with communists.

    With Republicans, it is just an American color. With Democrats it would have been politically symbolic.

  7. Kevin said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:38 am

    In Canada, we always use red to refer to our Liberal Party (a centrist Party) and blue to refer to our Conservatives (a right wing party). So the US system is counter-intuitive. But then, we also have orange, green, and a sort of turquoise.

  8. Mary Sweeten said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:43 am

    It IS counter-intuitive. The only way I can ever remember it is R=red and R=Republican. Plus, Nancy Reagan often wore red.

  9. GeorgeW said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:45 am

    @Kevin: Did Canada ever go through a red-under-every-bed scare period? In the U.S., red as a political symbol was very pejorative as was 'pinko' (a 'red' sympathizer).

  10. jfruh said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    My understanding is that by convention the TV networks swapped red and blue as their map colors every presidential election. But during the 2000 election, with its weeks-long aftermath, Americans spent a long time staring at that map waiting to see what color would eventually be assigned to Florida, and at the end of that wait the "Red=Republican, Blue=Democrat" equation was burned into people's brains.

  11. Sam said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    I remember that during the 80s election returns would use red and blue arbitrarily for Democrat and Republican. Here's a youtube fragment from the 1984 election; CBS was using red=Republican but NBC was using blue=Republican. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gofi0IovKBQ (Check out the hairstyles! And the computer _terminals_! And the smoking!)

    In 1992, with Ross Perot's strong third-party campaign, I believe some networks used green for Perot's party, and then green and yellow even again in 1996 for Perot and Ralph Nader, running on the Green Party ticket.

    Of course the month-long post-election news coverage and red/blue dichotomy cemented the red=Republican association, so much so that e.g., Wikipedia now has red=Republican for all its election maps going back to 1860.

  12. Sam said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:50 am

    The CBS result is at 4:21 and the NBC result is at 6:21.

  13. GeorgeW said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:51 am

    Apparently, colors are powerful political symbols – red (as discussed), green (left, environmental, Sunni Islam), black (Shi'a Islam), orange (Ukrainian revolution), etc.

  14. Colin Reid said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 9:24 am

    In Germany, the main parties all have long-established colours, and the colours are widely used to express coalitions, so for instance you might read about a 'black-yellow government' or even a 'Jamaica coalition' (Jamaica = black-yellow-green, from the flag, so CDU/CSU-FDP-Greens).

  15. Gabe Ormsby said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 9:32 am

    It is quite new. I remember when I first heard "red" used for Republican, probably in early 2000s, it took me a long time to sort out the speaker's meaning. I also vividly remember looking at our one lone red state (MN) in that field of [expletive deleted] blue during the 1984 election – Mondale took only DC and Minnesota.

  16. Dan Lufkin said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 9:43 am

    Anyone who thinks radical red isn't appropriate for the GOP didn't listen to Rand Paul's acceptance speech.

    The Tea Party's platform verges on classical 19th-century anarchism, just substituting entrepreneurs for factory workers. Alexander Butterworth's recent history The World That Never Was makes cogent reading nowadays.

  17. Kaviani said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 10:01 am

    Does this tie into crips and bloods somehow?

  18. John Cowan said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 10:29 am

    According to the Wikipedia writeup, colored electoral maps on TV during presidential election nights began in 1976 on NBC, with Democrats red and Republicans blue. The other networks picked up the idea in 1980, but there was no color standardization until after election night on 2000, when all news sources converged on the same scheme more or less by accident. Tim Russert, and then the whole nation, started to talk of red states and blue states, and the associations became permanent.

    The last time I looked, a few years ago, both parties' websites showed lots of red, lots of white, and lots of blue, but no predominance of the popularly associated color. Now, though, gop.com is overwhelmingly red — even the GOP elephant is now red. On the other hand, democrats.org is predominantly blue and white with just a little red here and there, and the logo is now a light blue D on a white circle enclosed by a dark blue circle, all on a light blue background.

  19. Dan T. said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 10:50 am

    Is there any significance to the fact that the Democrats are a .org while the Republicans are a .com?

  20. Mr Fnortner said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    The international choices of red for liberal and blue for conservative is because those are metric colors. The US still uses the traditional English color system.

    :-)

  21. Ian Preston said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

    Red for Tory and blue for Whig is the division of colours adopted in the Exclusion Crisis:

    "I hear further since that this is the distinction they make instead of Cavalier and Roundhead, now they are called Torys and Wiggs, the former wearing a red Ribband, the other a violet" (see p.263 The Origin of 'Whig' and 'Tory' in English Political Language, Robert Willman, Historical Journal)

    There appear to be parts of the UK where blue for Liberal and red for Conservative remained the colour scheme into the last century:
    "The London world reeked with the General Election; it had invaded the nurseries. All the children of one's friends had got big maps of England cut up into squares to represent constituencies and were busy sticking gummed blue labels over the conquered red of Unionism that had hitherto submerged the country." (H. G. Wells, The New Machiavelli, discussing 1906)

    (I got some of this from an interesting discussion of the history here.)

  22. Emilio said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

    In Italy the traditional colours were red for both socialists and communists, white for the christian democrats, black for the neo-fascists. In the nineties blue hadn't been taken yet, and that's why Berlusconi chose it for his new party. Today the main centre-left party (Democratic Party) is a merger of former communists and christian democrats. The two components put a veto on each other's traditional colour, so now neither red nor white is used to designate the DP. A minor confusion also arose when the separatist Northern League started to identify itself with green, the colour most commonly used for enviromentalist parties.

  23. Mark Etherton said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    The traditional English colour system was blue (or True Blue) for Conservatives/Tories and buff (or blue and buff) for Liberals/Whigs.

  24. KevinM said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    So the election results last night were "red right returning."

  25. Jim said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    There is a military convention under which blue refers to friendly forces and red refers to the enemy. I agree that this use of "red" to refer to Republicans is new, probably around 2000, and I also seem to remember hearing it from Democrats first. The fact that it had previously referred to Communists was just lagniappe.

  26. Rubrick said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

    I think this is a useful lesson for historians: sometimes, behind pervasive change lies meaningless happenstance.

  27. Dan T. said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

    At least in an American Revolution context, the "Tories" are "Redcoats".

  28. ignoramus said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

    Spectrum, light RGB,
    red goes bull.
    Politics goes in circles so may be as the light goes thru the black hole it reverses the spectrum.
    As Extremes of the political rhetoric merge so it needs this new color scheme.
    So may be there be a bit of a Freudian slip. Actions have merged, methods differ but it ends up that the power is held by a very small elite, winner takes all.

  29. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

    I agree that the "red = GOP/conservative" symbolism is both quite recent and either completely accidental/arbitrary or a protesting-too-much attempt to avoid the red=left symbolism generally embraced by the left-of-center parties in Europe but less comfortable for the Democrats in the U.S. for various historical reasons. But in terms of semantics the new usage may have some resonance with the (mostly pejorative?) phrase "red-meat conservative." I don't know how far back that usage goes, although the Time magazine corpus at BYU has a hit from 1995.

  30. Stephen Downess said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

    I wonderted about that; it has to be deliberate and with political intent, doesn't it? The colour red has certain associations; it is, as other commentators ahve noticed, odd to find it associated with a right wing party.

  31. I.D. Mercer said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    I agree with the commenters who cited evidence that it may be both happenstance and fairly recent.

    But perhaps two reasons the associations could have stuck are the associations of "red-blooded (real, patriotic) Americans" and "blue-bloods" meaning (coastal) elites?

    (Of course, people haven't always associated the Dems with wealthy Northeastern elites, but that seems to be part of the stereotype this millennium.)

  32. Terry Collmann said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 5:54 pm

    The use of the colour blue by supporters of the Whigs is supposed to have given rise to the surprising number of pubs in Grantham, Lincolnshire called the "Blue [animal]", such as the Blue Dog, Blue Horse, Blue Bull and Blue Pig, after the Whig-supporting Manners family, local landowners (and Dukes of Rutland) caused them to be renamed to reflect the family's political allegiance.

    The discussion Ian Preston cites here also reveals that in many areas, in particular, in the North West of England, the traditional Tory/Conservative colour was red, apparently the racing colours of the 14th Earl of Derby, leader of the Conservative Party from 1846 to 1868, and that in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire and surrounding areas some Conservative party supporters wore pink rosettes, while in Cumberland and Westmoreland Tory/Conservative candidates sported yellow or buff, the colours of the Tory-supporting Lowther family, Earls of Lonsdale.

    The Whigs' descendants, the Liberal Party (and, today, the Liberal Democrats) use yellow as the official party colour, to distinguish them from Conservative blue and Labour red, though in the recent past the Liberal Party was known to use orange.

  33. dirk alan said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:44 pm

    should be republicans = red = stop. democrats = green = go.

  34. Geoff Nunberg said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 8:55 pm

    From a "Fresh Air" piece on these color wars that I did in 2005:

    …even if our red-blue reversal began with the arbitrary decision of some network graphic artist, there's a logic to it. After the fall of communism and the eclipse of the far left, a color that connotes wild-eyed radicals doesn't have much relevance to the media stereotype of urban liberals from Boston or San Francisco — those effete, intellectual, bloodless… well, "bluestockings" was one way we used to say this.

    And red has other associations that make it appropriate to stand in for heartland American culture. You could start with the idea of the heartland itself, and add red-blooded and red meat, with "redneck" hovering unspoken in the background.

    Once you start in on this, it seems to be everywhere. Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and Campbell's Soup all use red logos; Loewenbrau, Skyy Vodka, and BMW use blue ones. Red is the color of the Cincinnati Reds, the Houston Astros, and the Atlanta Braves; blue is the color of the New York Yankees, the LA Dodgers, and the Seattle Mariners.

    True, this gets leaky if you think about it too much. After all, blue also gets you the Texas Rangers and WalMart, whereas red gets you the Boston Red Sox and Target. But then the whole idea of a red-blue cultural dichotomy doesn't really bear close examination in the first place…. [Still,] the media aren't exactly averse to facile oversimplifications, particularly when they come with good visuals.

    The piece ended with a prediction that demonstrated my unerring prescience:

    My guess is that the appeal of dividing America into color-coded cultures will fade as soon as another presidential election re-arranges the electoral quilt into something less tidy.

  35. Bertoldo said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 9:15 pm

    In Italy, but, I think, elsewhere too (e. g. in Germany), black could also be the colour of politically engaged catholics (or, to use the label that their opponents often attached to them, clericals: black is, of course, the colour of cassocks). But after the second world war the christian democratic party D. C. was usually described as "white".

    In France, "les Blancs" were, " [a]utrefois, [les] chouans p. oppos. aux républicains, dits 'les Bleus' " ("Trésor"). In the XIX century, "blanc" simply meant "royaliste, monarchiste, légitimiste".

  36. Joshua said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 12:03 am

    Ben Zimmer is correct that the current equation of Republicans with red and Democrats with blue dates to no earlier than the 2000 election (Nov. 7, 2000). Ten years ago today, if someone had said, "Do you think Florida will be a red state or a blue state this year?", the most likely response would have been, "What are you talking about?" And if the questioner had attempted to clarify by saying, "You know, red for Republican and blue for Democrat," a plausible response would have been, "The parties have assigned colors? I never heard that before."

  37. Joyce Melton said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 3:23 am

    It's actually older than 2000, though that is when it got stapled to the cortexes of the American public. The networks had systems where the two main parties alternated colors except that an incumbent president kept the color he was elected under. The system was overly complex and at least one of the networks had blue for Democrats and red for Republicans back during the Bush v Mondale election.

    Reagan had been blue on the network that came up with this plan, so after his term, they switched the colors. Bush became red and Mondale blue, then Clinton blue because Bush was Red but Clinton won and kept blue for eight years which became twelve years with blue for Democrats and red for Republicans. In the 1996 election, all the networks used the same colors by a sort of unspoken agreement.

    So in 2000 the decision was made to scrap the overly complex system and just stick with what had been working for twelve years. That's when the phrases red state and blue state became current because suddenly they actually meant something besides a temporary choice. It had become permanent.

    I still haven't gotten used to it.

  38. Helena Constantine said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 11:11 am

    We need Glenn Beck to go on TV and explain that since the Republicans are clearly involved in a vast conspiracy to socialize the united states with their red color, you should buy gold from him.

  39. Acilius said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 11:53 am

    @Joyce Melton: "The networks had systems where the two main parties alternated colors except that an incumbent president kept the color he was elected under. The system was overly complex"- indeed it was! Thanks for the information.

    Only, when you typed "the Bush v Mondale election," did you mean 1984, when Mondale and Ferraro challenged Reagan and Bush, or 1988, when Dukakis and Bentsen squared off against Bush and Quayle?

  40. Allen Garvin said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 1:23 pm

    I've always found it confusing for the reasons stated, and also because donkeys are naturally rather reddish, and elephants are sort of blue.

  41. Joe Boyd said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

    I find it interesting that neither of the major US parties had established their own colours before the news networks did their branding for them. As observed, in many countries, as in my own (Canada), party colours have long been well established. I suppose this is a result not of having failed to decide on a brand, but of both of parties having been competing for the same brand – viz., that of the red, white, and blue. The Canadian Liberal Party is informally referred to as "Canada's natural party," and one wonders if its ownership of Canada's official colour (red) has anything to do with that perception. (In contradistinction to the US, red was the colour of the party first, and later the colour of Canada. Predicably, when the design of the flag was being debated in '64, many Conservatives were upset that its bars were not coloured blue in recognition of the other major political party. You can guess what party was in power at the time.) Meanwhile, while the Libs are a bit left of the Conservatives, the only vaguely leftist party that ever wins any seats (the NDP), chose orange since, I suppose, red was taken, purple was royal, and pink was… well, pink.

    @GeorgeW To the best of my knowledge, Canada never went through a "red-under-every-bed scare period". Our (arguably) most popular prime minister P. E. Trudeau (Lib) was openly friendly with Castro, who even came to Montreal for his funeral in 2000. Certainly we had the nuclear fear during the cold war, but I would say we lacked the ideological hysteria of the US toward leftist politics. Even today, I and many I talk to find the current ubiquitous talk in US media about the likelyhood of Obama turning "centrist" in the wake of the midterm elections a bit baffling, as he seemed pretty centrist right from the start. But of course there is no centre in a political spectrum, and so one should probably refer to "moving left" or "moving right" and never about centrism.

  42. Dan Lufkin said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

    I always liked the vase-vs.-two faces aspect of the Canadian flag. If you can see past the maple leaf (which may take forever), you'll see two sharp-nosed Liberal and Conservative supporters standing shoulder-to-shoulder yelling at each other.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Canada

  43. John said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    Yep, it's remarkably recent, but I remember it happening and being amazed.

    Then again, the American right is clearly not big on history.

  44. Sandra Wilde said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 6:36 pm

    The only way I can remember which is which is that R = red = republican.

    It was only in the 1970's that color TV became common enough to use colors as signifiers on the election map.

    I remember living in Canada in the 1970's and being very surprised that the conservative party's sobriquet for itself was "The Big Blue Machine," with machine appearing not to have the pejorative political connotations it does in the US.

  45. Aaron Davies said,

    November 4, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

    @Bertoldo: i guess this is where the "whites" in the russian civil war got their color?

  46. J. Goard said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 12:10 am

    I always liked the vase-vs.-two faces aspect of the Canadian flag. If you can see past the maple leaf (which may take forever), you'll see two sharp-nosed Liberal and Conservative supporters standing shoulder-to-shoulder yelling at each other.

    I always thought they were looking down in amazement at the "tents" they were "pitching"… guess I fail the Rorschach test there.

  47. John Cowan said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 1:35 am

    Back when there was talk of the blue states merging with anglophone Canada, I proposed that the new nation (which would surely include both the U.S. Northeast and the West Coast) should adopt the maple-leaf flag with blue bars instead of red, a mari usque ad mare 'from sea to shining sea'.

  48. Dan Lufkin said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 8:38 am

    There's already the Canadian Duality Flag (q.G.) with blue pales to incorporate the blue of the flag of Québec.

  49. George said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 9:39 am

    I'm not American, so I may be wide of the mark here, but my impression is that while the terms "Red State" and "Blue State" refer to Staes dominated electorally by the Republicans and the Democrats respectively, actual Republicans (politicians or voters) are not referred to as "Reds" and actual democrats (likewise) are not referred to as "Blues". In other words, the colours are used only in one very limited context. Am I wrong?

  50. Anthony said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 12:06 pm

    George – you're not wrong. The context is a little wider than "red state" versus "blue state", but you are correct that actual politicians (and parties) are not referred to by their colors. Pundits will refer to sub-state units – counties, or Congressional districts, for example – as "leaning red" or "solid blue", and you might occasionally get references to people, such as "the deep red voters of Texas/Utah".

    The official colors of both the Democrats and Republicans are red, white, and blue, despite some politically tone-deaf designer saddling the Democrats with salmon, eggshell, and sky at their 1984(?) convention.

  51. groki said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 12:14 pm

    @Anthony: tone-deaf

    don't you mean "tone-blind"? :)

  52. Scott said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

    I always thought that, with Tim Russets' love of language, it was the alliteration of R originating both red and Republican, and 'blue' coming from the Democratics originally being of the 'Blue-collar' contingent, before it came from the 'blue-blood' portion of the American populace…

  53. George said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

    Thanks for that Anthony. I just had this feeling that the assertion in the post (that "red" has come to mean "right wing" in U.S. politics) was going a bit too far. And I'm now happy enough that my feeling wasn't misplaced.

  54. Joyce Melton said,

    November 5, 2010 @ 7:36 pm

    Yeah, I did mean Bush v. Dukakis, not Mondale above. Sorry.

  55. Matt McIrvin said,

    November 7, 2010 @ 2:21 am

    George, you're right about Democrats and Republicans not being called "Blues" and "Reds"–I think the earlier connotation of a "Red" being a Communist is still too active in memory for that to make sense.

    Blue and Red usually refer to places that vote Democratic or Republican, because of the colors' origins on election maps.

    The association definitely is post-2000. I have vivid memories of networks representing Reagan's 1984 reelection blowout as a vast blue expanse covering the country, with Minnesota as a red island.

    People have already mentioned the use of red and blue on TV maps in 2000. I think there was an even more influential source for the modern colors: a USA Today map of election results by county that got a lot of circulation in the aftermath of the disputed election. Republicans particularly liked the map because, since Democrats are more geographically concentrated than Republicans, it showed Gore votes as a speckling of blue in a vast, continuous sea of Bush red. But the now-standard colors were the ones it used.

    There haven't traditionally been any colors associated with these parties in the US. Candidates' campaigns use all sorts of colors in their branding. But it does seem to me that that's changing; the 2008 Obama campaign's visual identity used lots and lots of blue in a striking way, and in the recent election campaign I noticed that colors on political yard signs are starting to fall into the modern dichotomy.

  56. Mira said,

    November 8, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

    I distinctly remember the campaign manager at a congressional campaign I volunteered at in 2000 saying "Let's make the fliers blue, the Democrats are all using blue this year."

  57. Podcast | Episode 68 – Resisting the Taint said,

    November 9, 2010 @ 11:39 pm

    [...] Police's Pick The midwest is red? Silly Bandz all the rage for all ages in Portland [...]

  58. Ed Darrell said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:15 am

    My recollection is that Russert picked red for the Republicans just for the heck of it, with a wink to the opposite meaning of the color in those times.

    To get the joke, of course, one must know a little bit of history. The Palin wing of the conservatives may never get it.

  59. Ben Zimmer said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:28 am

    @Ed: No, the color scheme wasn't just picked "for the heck of it." Read my Word Routes column that Mark linked to above.

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