A friend of mine recently read an article from The Christian Science Monitor about the polarization of the electorate and asked me about the origin of red and blue states-- not knowing for myself the reasoning behind the red and blue state phenomenon, I've done a little research. What we've come to acknowledge as red states, or conservative states, haven't always been red, but in fact were at one time blue, or liberal, states. No wonder we're all confused!! Here's what I've found:
1870-- Blue: Democrats
1888-- Blue: Republicans
1984-- Blue: Republicans
2000-now-- Blue: Democrats
In the 1870's a color-coding system was developed to help illiterate and Spanish speaking voters navigate English language ballots in southern Texas. For no rhyme or reason, Democratic leaders chose blue as their representative color and Republicans chose red. (Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas History Online)
In 1888, though defeated in his bid for re-election, Grover Cleveland used blue and red to color the electorate map of the United States-- Blue for Republican (the color he perceived to represent the Union and "Lincoln's Party" or the Republican Party) and red for Democrat. His successor, Benjamin Harrison, used the same color-coding system.
After nearly a century of flip-flopping, the colors of liberalism and conservatism were re-established in the presidential election of 1984. After a landslide victory, all of the states won by Republican Ronald Reagan were colored blue and announced to be "Lake Reagan."
The presidential election of 2000 brought red and blue states into focus yet again. The U.S. map was brightly colored with red and blue states--red for Republican won electoral votes and blue for Democratic won electoral votes. So was the case with the presidential election of 2004 between Kerry and Bush.
Purple, Green, and Yellow
Despite all that I've learned I see no reason for this effort to color the states. Maybe someone is missing kindergarten and felt like coloring hundreds of maps...I just don't know. As the article asserts, I believe that our country isn't actually as polarized as the phenomenon would have you believe. We are all essentially a shade of purple (unfortunately, we are colored by a state's majority vote and for those of us in dominantly red states, we don't even appear as a blue dot on the map). Also, in case anyone was wondering, if by some slim chance you saw yellow or green states this election cycle you were seeing green for yes, you guessed it, the Green Party, and yellow for the Libertarian Party. I'm assuming if you by any chance saw this you must have been looking at a county seat map in Vermont. Vermont... now there's an interesting phenomenon!