Ever since the coverage of elections on 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. 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).
“”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)|
"Red state" is a pop culture term for a state within the United States of America that has shown support for more conservative (Republican). In most other countries, it means "liberal", 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.
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 is the color of Communism, a movement abhorred by conservatives. Go figure.
"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 some reason) presidential candidates in recent elections. Geographically, blue states are in the Northeastern, North Central, and West Coastal regions of the continental United States. The state of Hawaii is also included as a blue state.
"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 Ohio, 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
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" in the '80s, 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.
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 is 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.
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.
- Southern strategy - The current red states correlate very closely to the slave states before and during the American Civil War.
- "Rethinking red states and blue states — in 1 map", Washington Post, 1 February 2013
- Red State Update on YouTube