I had a discussion on this very matter at a family gathering recently.
I maintained, against the protestations of my cousin, that I was
certain that the colors representing Democrats and Republicans used to
be reversed, with blue representing the GOP and red representing the
Democratic Party. And, by gum, I was right. Sort of.
The assignment of colors to political parties is, one might say, all
over the map. But, until 2000, televised coverage of national
elections often used blue for Republican states and red for Democratic
I've found some excellent articles on the subject. I'm posting
excerpts here, but you may want to read these articles in their
"We refer to the red states and the blue states so regularly now that
the association seems long established. But only the 2000 presidential
election established the linkage of blue with Democrats and red with
Republicans. In earlier years, the television networks and magazine
maps had reversed the association. In 1984 rival networks associated
red with Democrats and blue with Republicans. The Reagan sweep of that
year was called 'Lake Reagan' in one context.
In many ways the link goes against tradition. Red has long stood for
the left and one has to suspect that the first usage of it to
represent Republicans was inspired by an effort to seem non
The end of the cold war made red baiting and pinko artifacts of a time
past; the critical mark of the change may have come when the old red
baiter, Richard Nixon, visited 'Red' China.
On the other hand, blue was the color of the Union army uniforms, by
contrast to gray, and has a historical link to the party of Lincoln.
But in the Revolutionary war blue was the color of the Continental
army uniform: red that of the British, of course."
AIGA Design Forum: One Fate, Two Fates, Red States, Blue States
"An early marriage of red and blue with the two major parties is noted
in the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas History
Online, which describes a color-coding system developed in the 1870's
to help illiterate and Spanish-speaking voters navigate
English-language ballots in South Texas. Local Democratic leaders
called their party the Blues; Republicans chose to be the Reds. By
late in the next century, however, few were guided by that historical
tidbit - or any other convention...
Geraldine A. Ferraro recalled watching her 1984 vice presidential bid
founder on the television screen. Mr. Reagan's victory this time
around was rendered in both flavors. 'One network map of the United
States was entirely blue for the Republicans,' she wrote. 'On another
network, the color motif was a blanket of red.'
By the 1990's, the color scheme was becoming a bit more formalized -
at least on network and cable television. But other news outlets
continued to vary.
Time magazine had favored Democratic red and Republican white in the
1976 election between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, then reversed
those colors for Reagan and Carter in 1980. By 1988, the magazine was
using Republican blue and Democratic red, and it stayed with that
motif even through the 2000 election, which has colorized the nation's
political language in precisely the opposite way.
The [New York] Times, which published its first color presidential
election map in 2000, followed the networks, although Archie Tse, a
graphics editor who made the choice, provided a different rationale:
'Both Republican and red start with the letter R,' he said.
The National Atlas of the United States, published online under the
auspices of the United States Geological Survey at nationalatlas.gov,
still resists that trend: Bush counties are blue; Gore counties red."
US Election Atlas: One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State
"In the United States there is no official association between
political parties and specific colours. The two major political
parties use the national colours - red, white, and blue - to show
their patriotism. The only common situation in which it has been
necessary to assign a single colour to a party has been in the
production of political maps in graphical displays of election
results. In such cases, there has historically been no consistent
association of particular parties with particular colours. In the
weeks following the 2000 election, however, there arose the
terminology of blue states and red states], in which the right-wing
Republican Party was associated with red and the left-wing Democratic
Party with blue. Political observers subsequently latched on to this
association, which resulted from the use of red for Republican
victories and blue for Democratic victories on the display map of a
television network. This association has certainly not been
consistently applied in the past: during previous presidential
elections, about half of the television networks used the opposite
association. It remains to be seen whether the 'red state/blue state'
terminology will solidify in the 2004 presidential year and beyond...
Maps for presidential elections produced by the U.S. government use
the opposite system, with red for Democrats and blue for
Nevertheless, since the 2000 election the news media have tended to
use red for Republicans and blue for Democrats, especially as it
relates the the electoral majority in each state, informally calling
them the Red states and Blue states. The colour green is often used
for the Green Party, and the colour yellow is often used for the
Word IQ: Definition of Political Colour
Google Web Search: red OR blue states republicans democrats
I hope this helps! Please let me know if anything is in need of
clarification, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.