Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 14, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

RED STATES AND BLUE STATES....EXPLAINED!....In my post yesterday about red states and blue states, one question I pondered was this: why were Gore states colored blue in 2000 election maps and Bush states red? After all, red is traditionally the color of lefty parties around the world, and in past elections network maps had usually colored Democratic states red.

In comments, Petey provides the answer:

Since the advent of color TV, there has been a formula to avoid charges of giving any party an advantage by painting it a "better" color. Here is the formula: the color of the incumbent party alternates every 4 years.

He seems to be quite correct. The table below shows how this formula has applied since 1976:


Year

Incumbent
Party

Incumbent
Color

Challenger
Color

1976

Republican

Blue = Ford

Red = Carter

1980

Democratic

Red = Carter

Blue = Reagan

1984

Republican

Blue = Reagan

Red = Mondale

1988

Republican

Red = Bush

Blue = Dukakis

1992

Republican

Blue = Bush

Red = Clinton

1996

Democratic

Red = Clinton

Blue = Dole

2000

Democratic

Blue = Gore

Red = Bush

2004

Republican

Red = Bush

Blue = Kerry

This fits all the available evidence, and also explains why Democrats have usually been colored red: it's a coincidence. In the six elections prior to 2000 every Democrat but one had been coded red, but that was just because of how the cycle of incumbency happened to work out during that period.

And as Petey points out in email, this raises an interesting question: what will happen in 2008? The formula will assign blue to the Republicans, but the red state/blue state divide has now become so entrenched it's hard to imagine anyone switching colors at this point. I guess in four years we'll find out just how anal the network mapping gurus really are.

POSTSCRIPT: If anyone has firsthand knowledge or knows someone with firsthand knowledge about when this formula was agreed on and how it came about, please email me. It would be interesting to nail this down once and for all.

Kevin Drum 1:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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