Red and Blue

It’s a few years old, but I discovered an interesting article on just now:

When Republicans Were Blue and Democrats Were Red

The era of color-coded political parties is more recent than you might think

By Jodi Enda

Television’s first dynamic, color-coded presidential map, standing two stories high in the studio best known as the home to “Saturday Night Live,” was melting.

It was early October, 1976, the month before the map was to debut—live—on election night. At the urging of anchor John Chancellor, NBC had constructed the behemoth map to illustrate, in vivid blue and red, which states supported Republican incumbent Gerald Ford and which backed Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter.

The test run didn’t go well. Although the map was buttressed by a sturdy wood frame, the front of each state was plastic.

“There were thousands of bulbs,” recalled Roy Wetzel, then the newly minted general manager of NBC’s election unit. “The thing started to melt when we turned all the lights on. We then had to bring in gigantic interior air conditioning and fans to put behind the thing to cool it.”

That solved the problem. And when election results flowed in Tuesday night, Nov. 2, Studio 8-H at 30 Rockefeller Center lit up. Light bulbs on each state changed from undecided white to Republican blue and Democratic red. NBC declared Carter the winner at 3:30 a.m. EST, when Mississippi turned red.

That’s right: In the beginning, blue was red and red was blue and they changed back and forth from election to election and network to network in what appears, in hindsight, to be a flight of whimsy. The notion that there were “red states” and “blue states”—and that the former were Republican and the latter Democratic—wasn’t cemented on the national psyche until the year 2000.

Chalk up another one to Bush v. Gore. Not only did it give us “hanging chads” and a crash course in the Electoral College, not only did it lead to a controversial Supreme Court ruling and a heightened level of polarization that has intensified ever since, the Election That Wouldn’t End gave us a new political shorthand.

More at the link. Quite right: in Britain the colors are reversed – a true-blue is “a staunch royalist or Conservative,” while Labour is always represented by red, since they’re Commies. I guess now that the USSR is no more American conservatives can embrace the color red, which they used to be better dead than.

Another irony occurred to me not long ago – Wal-Mart, the reddest of red state institutions, identifies itself with the color blue, while Target, the Minneapolis-based chain with the cool advertisements, the affordable design, and the social conscience, decks itself in red.

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