red states, blue states (redux)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Feb 2 05:17:14 UTC 2005

After the WOTY selection of "red/blue/purple states", I offered some
evidence that the red=Rep/blue=Dem color scheme might go all the way back
to the Washington Post's electoral map of 1908:

Regardless of what the Post did nearly a century ago, TV networks did not
regularly assign red to Republicans and blue to Democrats in the color-TV
era.  (I guess the overwhelming "red state/blue state" rhetoric of 2000
and 2004 had, uh, "colored" my memory.)  I discovered this after reading a
recent blog entry by Mickey Kaus on Slate:

This has to be old, but has someone written the piece that actually
explains how Republican states became "red," even though red is the color
of communism and blue is the color of Republican hair? ... It wasn't
always so. Here's a site that goes with the originally more intuitive
Dems-are-red convention. ... P.S.: Safire mentioned the shift in a column
but didn't come close to getting to the bottom of the media conspiracy.
... Update: Kevin Drum has an on-point post that raises as many questions
as it answers!

Kaus links to the following very informative piece by Kevin Drum (who
writes the "Political Animal" blog for the Washington Monthly):

Apparently, the networks decided in 1976 that the color of the incumbent
party would alternate every 4 years, in order to avoid any appearance of
favoritism.  Interestingly, the color coding is supposed to switch in
2008, with blue for Republicans and red for Democrats (as was often the
case from 1976 to 1996).  Drum notes that "the red state/blue state divide
has now become so entrenched it's hard to imagine anyone switching colors
at this point."  I would agree-- the "red/blue/purple" concept is here to
stay (no passing fancy like, say, "bushlips"!).

--Ben Zimmer

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