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Red, blue, and purple states

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Red state, blue state, and Purple America are terms used to refer to the political leanings of states and America in general.


Ever since the coverage of elections on color television, it has been common practice to use red, white (or gray), and blue to represent which party/candidate was expected — or projected — to win the electoral votes from that state. Red would be assigned to one candidate, and blue to another — white would be hauled out in those rare, but not unheard of, cases where a third candidate managed to win electoral votes. However, it was not until the election of 2000 when blue became the de facto color of the Democrats and red, the Republicans. It so happened that in that year, the Democrats had been assigned blue and the GOP had been assigned red. However, because of the way the election dragged on for weeks before a final decision, these colors became permanently associated with their respective parties.[1] This is in contrast to the coloring conventions in most countries, where red is usually used to represent the more socialist party and blue with conservatism (via the aristocracy).[2] One example of how colors would fluctuate is "Lake Reagan", a term many pundits used for the 1984 electoral landslide, as it turned the whole map blue.

Red states[edit]

Then there was the whole 'Redneck' comment, and I'm sensing that you took that negatively. But let's break down that word. Redneck. First word: red! Color of power, fire, passion! Second word: neck! …neck… I can't think of nuthin' for neck right now, but without that you still got 'red' and that's something to be proud of.
—Will Smith, Wild Wild West (1999)[3]

"Red state" is a pop culture term for a state within the United States of America that has shown more support for conservative (Republican) candidates than (kinda) liberal (Democratic) ones. In most other countries, it means "left wing" (preferably socialism or communism), as it did in America until 2000 (largely due to the graphics NBC used on the night of a legendarily controversial and delayed 2000 election). Curiously, if global warming were to continue to its ultimate end, many of the so-called U.S. red states will be blue one way or another. Currently, red states include much of the South and Midwest, as well as some parts of the west (mainly Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah) and Alaska.

Red states function at more of a feudal level where a small landed class holds power over a large renter class:

  • Rural areas benefit from low taxes, since the benefits of public infrastructure are rarely-seen.
  • A lack of employment opportunities ties the fate of the disadvantaged to the success of the owners (factories, farms, etc.).
  • Old wealth has been established in these communities for generations, further skewing the discourse.

Red State is also the name of a Kevin Smith film based on a fictional fundamentalist Christian church obsessed with guns and killing sinners.

Irony alert[edit]

Red is the color of communism, a movement abhorred by conservatives. Go figure. Conservapedia thinks that there's a good chance that the leebrals did this intentionally in a "deceitful effort to distance the Democrats from its increasingly socialist governance".[4] In reality (which is known to have a liberal bias), the Democrats became increasingly neoliberal from the late '80s through the '00s.

Blue states[edit]

"Blue state" is a pop culture term for a state within the United States of America that has shown support for more liberal (Democratic) (in most other countries it means conservatives, and it did in the US as well until 2000, when it changed for reasons already discussed) presidential candidates in recent elections. Geographically, blue states are in the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, West Coastal, and, increasingly in recent years, the Southwestern regions of the continental United States... and Georgia. The state of Hawaii is also included as a blue state. DC is a blue district (districts have no effective representation whatsoever despite having non-voting delegates). The U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam are also both blue. Puerto Rico is also somewhat blue, though not to the extent that many people think, and its domestic party landscape is different from the simple Democrat/Republican dichotomy of the 50 states.

Purple America[edit]

2008 Presidential election, county-level results displayed as shades of purple

"Purple America" refers to those states on the red/blue political map currently in vogue which have a demographic make-up that's similar to the country as a whole. They're also referred to as swing states because they could go either way in any given Presidential (or Congressional) election. These states usually attract the vast majority of campaign spending by both sides, because the return on investment is considered the best — a dollar spent on ads in Pennsylvania or Florida, for example, is more likely to have an effect on the overall result than one invested in Utah or Massachusetts.

It may also be a description for the country as a whole that's more fitting than the contrived red/blue state divide, as most states only have a relatively marginal preference for a single party, turning all of the map into shades of purple.

In election campaigns[edit]

Due to ongoing demographic changes, the area considered "purple" is constantly shifting. Migration, general change in attitudes and the perceived importance of specific issues all affect how close a state's preferences are to the overall platforms of the major parties. The individual appeal, origin and policy priorities of specific candidates also have an influence on the color of the map, making it even more elusive.

For instance, until the 1980s, much of the Northeast would have been considered "purple," seeing as how it was a battleground between the Democrats (the party of labor and "white ethnics" like the Irish, Italians, and Poles) and the Republicans (the party of white-collar workers, business owners, and WASPs). Since then, though, the Republicans' turn to religious populism has turned the Northeast, even formerly Republican-heavy states like New Jersey and Vermont, into a Democratic stronghold encompassing both groups. Meanwhile, the Rocky Mountain states have gone from being a battleground in the mid-20th century, to being a Republican stronghold with the rise of the anti-government, anti-environmentalist "sagebrush rebels"[5] in the 1980s, to being a battleground again with the growth of the region's Latino population.

In the 2008 Presidential Election, Purple America included Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, and a few other smaller swing states. Except Missouri, all of these were ultimately won by Obama. More surprisingly, he also won Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, all of which had been considered reliable red states and had not been won by a Democrat in decades. While the Obama campaign did not pursue a genuine "Fifty State Strategy" like the one proposed by former DNC chairman Howard Dean, this still represented a substantial expansion beyond the main battlegrounds of the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2020, the swing states included Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and some would argue even Texas,[note 1] as well as the second districts of Maine and Nebraska. Donald Trump won Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Maine's second district while Joe Biden won the rest.

The campaign focus on "purple" states may be blessing for those living in Blue or Red America, since they're mostly spared from the onslaught of campaign commercials, robocalls and personal visits from staffers. However, the disadvantage for all Americans is that issues affecting primarily that small handful of states will command outsized attention at the national level. For example, since Iowa was both an important swing state and traditionally holds the first caucus in a presidential election cycle, candidates are best advised to come up with a plan for ethanol and corn subsidies. However, given the 2016 results, Iowa may have left the orbit of "swing states" as fast as Missouri did a few years prior.

The most comparable areas of the United Kingdom are London commuter-belt constituencies around the M25. Some are reliable indicators of the national swing; the town of Gravesend has been won by the winning party in every UK election since 1945, except 2005. In proportional representation systems, such areas are less important, though pollsters still like to point out the place where people vote most like the national average (and hence polling there tends to be popular) and numerous companies will try to find demographically "average" places for beta testing to find out whether "it play in Peoria". In parliamentary systems with a lot of small parties or a small party holding the balance of power, the outsize influence of said small parties can have a similar effect. In Spain, the system gives more representation to parties with a strong local base than similar sized parties with voters spread throughout the country, thus enabling Catalan or Basque nationalists to hold the balance in hung parliaments and thus being able to demand outrageous pork barrel spending or other political concessions.


As can be expected with demographic shifts, but also shifts in voting patterns, "red states" and "blue states" don't stay red or blue for ever. Since about the 1992 election, the South, especially the "core South" or "deep South", which used to be solidly Democratic and then the place where elections were decided (Clinton carrying parts of it but Al Gore failing to win even his home state of Tennessee) shifted firmly towards the Republican column. Meanwhile, the industrial Midwest or "rust belt" shifted from "so blue they'll even vote against Reagan or Nixon" to a more purple and when the devil Hillary Clinton ran in 2016; it was here that Donald Trump won the election by flipping once solidly blue Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the Democrats made inroads in some Western states and some "Southern" states that become demographically less and less Southern with increasing presence of college-educated whites and racial minorities, such as Virginia which went blue three times out of the four elections 2004-2016 or Florida, which went red twice and blue twice in the same timeframe. In the West, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada went blue three times between 2004 and 2016 and while Utah, Texas and Arizona have not yet budged from the Republican column it looked awfully close in polling in the runup to the 2016 election, especially with the more than 50% Mormons in Utah less than thrilled with Donald Trump and Texas becoming more and more Latino. Naturally, local Republicans have their methods to hold onto local and statewide office, but the demographic trends are what helped sink Hillary's campaign despite her three million vote lead - her losses in the Rust Belt were just enough to cost her electoral votes while her gains elsewhere were not enough (yet). However, just like the Republicans who went campaigning in Pennsylvania for two decades before it finally paid off in 2016, it is quite possible that Hillary inadvertently laid the groundwork for the next Democratic majority relying on "blue states" like Nevada and Virginia and flipping "swing states" like Texas and Arizona. To give just one example of those shifts: Clinton won Virginia by more percentage points in 2016 than she lost Georgia. Freaking Georgia! Surely enough, Joe Biden ended up winning Georgia and Arizona and came closer in Texas, while doing even better in Colorado and Virginia to the point that they are no longer considered swing states.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Which actually ended up being closer than Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Maine and Nebraska's second districts


  1. Brooks, David. (December 2001) "One Nation, Slightly Divisible". The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  2. Farhi, Paul (November 2, 2004). "Elephants Are Red, Donkeys Are Blue". Washington Post. p. C01. Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved 2017-08-23.
  4. cp:Red states and blue states
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Sagebrush rebels.