Quora Question: Why are Republicans Red and Democrats Blue?

Quora Contributor

Quora Questions are part of a partnership between Newsweek and Quora, through which we'll be posting relevant and interesting answers from Quora contributors throughout the week. Read more about the partnership here. Answer from William Murphy, Professor of American History:

Assigning Republicans the color red and Democrats the color blue comes entirely from TV news coverage of presidential elections. There is no other source. It has nothing to do with the identity of the two parties; it has everything to do with creating nice graphical representations of presidential elections. Since 1976, TV networks have used electoral maps that have been color-coded red and blue to reveal which party’s candidate won a particular state.

But, and here’s where this is going to blow your mind, until the election of 2000, blue was the most often-used color for Republicans and red was the color for Democrats. But the truth was there was no standardization between networks; some might use red for Republicans, and some might use it for Democrats. And an individual network might not be consistent from one election to the next.

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Delegates point to an electoral map at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 27, 2016. Reuters

Then came the election of 2000. It’s not entirely clear how the decision was made to standardize the color scheme, but it seems to have been made during the disputed 2000 election. This is probably because the result of the election was very close and was not decided until weeks after the election itself took place, so those color-coded maps were on the news every night. So states that Al Gore won were colored blue and states that George W. Bush were colored red, and this was a reversal of the color scheme many news networks had used in the past.

It is widely believed that Tim Russert of NBC News, who was famous for his election-night coverage, first began to refer to the states by their color during this election, as “red states” and “blue states,” and the label just seemed to stick.

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