The Map that Started the Red and Blue Election Map Trend



In the highly divisive 2016 presidential elections a lot of meaning is placed behind the two most important colors in America- red and blue. No, we’re not talking about the American flag, but the ‘theme colors’ of the Republican and Democratic parties. Red and blue is dividing city by city, county by county, state by state.

When did this color scheme first start in the United States? The act of dividing up states based on the majority political vote is nothing new. Historian Susan Schulten has traced the practice of dividing elections of the country by color to 1883, when a map was first produced showing the United States’ affiliations with their preferred political party.

Schulten’s research went back as far as 1870, when the first Census maps were produced not only showing red and blue, but shades of these colors as well.

1880 popular vote by county. From Scribner’s Statistical Atlas, 1883.

1880 popular vote by county. From Scribner’s Statistical Atlas, 1883.

In the wake of the Civil War academics and politicians in the United States wanted to understand the political dynamic of the country. They began creating political maps which has given us in 2016 a great insight into the political thought of the day.

Back in the day, though, a few things were different. The Democratic party used to be represented by the color red, and the Republicans were blue. The standardization of the colors didn’t occur until the presidential election of 2000, when all the major news networks used red for Republicans and blue for democratic states. Until then most networks used one color to represent a particular candidate rather than the party they were a part of.

The electoral maps of the late 1800s aren’t so different from the maps we see on the news today. We are still trying to map and understand our country’s political affiliations, and one way of doing this is by creating color coded electoral maps during important political seasons.


The Story Behind the Ancient Map That Invented Red and Blue States.  Schulten, S.  New Republic, August 9, 2014.