How Political Parties Got Their Colors

How Political Parties Got Their Colors

Annabelle Akiyama, Writer

When people think of the Democratic Party, one of the first things that comes to mind is the color blue. The same can be said about the Republican Party, and the color red. Both parties have welcomed their respective colors, which nowadays have the same significance as their animals. (Democrats have the donkey, while Republicans claim the elephant.) But how did it get this way? Why are Democrats blue, and Republicans red? 

One of the main instances where the party colors come into play is on the electoral college map. Nowadays, the red and blue states are a staple in a presidential race, providing an easy way to track which way a state leans. It’s also common to hear a party’s color in other political conversations- a Republican state could be called a red state, and Democrats tell their supporters to “vote blue!” The color’s association with political parties has reached beyond the maps and into everyday conversation.

The first instance of color in electoral maps was in 1976, when NBC revealed a large colored map, with red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. However, there was little consistency between the channels- Democrats could be blue on one channel, and red on the next. For a while, a flipped color scheme (red for Democrats, blue for Republicans) seemed to be most prevalent, partly since it was associated with conservative parties in other countries. Still, it wasn’t until the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush that the networks came together to make the colors consistent, and gave us the map we have today. Many also think that we use our assigned colors since it sounds a bit catchy- red and Republican do sound and look natural together.

However, in other countries, red and blue are often switched. Excluding the US, the color red usually stands for parties on the left, while you can count on blue to represent conservative parties. It can be a bit confusing if you’re a traveler.

Other US political parties have their own colors, although we rarely have a chance to see them on the electoral map. (The US has a distinct two-party system, meaning that Republicans and Democrats dominate the political scene.) For example, the Libertarian Party is yellow, while the Green Party is, well, green. Third party’s colors do exist, although they’re used far less frequently in political conversations than the colors of the Democrats and Republicans.

Some argue that the color system is too polarizing, since it can put a specific label over a varied population. For instance, Texas was a red state for the 2020 presidential election, but only 52.1% voted for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. (46.5% of the vote went to Democrat Joe Biden, 1.1% went to Libertarian Jo Jorgenson, and 0.3% went to Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.) The “color” of a county or city can also be a conscious factor in a person’s location, cementing communities and further enforcing the use of such schemes.