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US election word of the week: red state, blue state

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s words are red state and blue state.

In last week’s post on swing states, we mentioned the alternative term purple state, so named because the states are a pretty even mix of red voters and blue voters and could go either way in the election. But why red and blue?

The residents of red states typically vote Republican while those living in blue states typically vote Democrat. By extension, red states are seen as being conservative and blue states more liberal. These associations, though strong, are relatively recent. According to Wikipedia it was only in the 2000 election that the association of red with Republicans and blue with Democrats was clearly established: before that the colours were reversed, or completely different colours were used. The current colour association is confusing for all those who think of red as being traditionally the colour of socialism and blue the tint associated with conservatism. In the UK, for example, red is the colour of the Labour party while the Conservatives brand themselves as true-blue.

The terms red stater and blue stater  have also been coined fairly recently to refer to those who live in either a red state or a blue state:

I’m a red stater stuck in a borough of blue.

Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter were all southern white males, and we blue staters voted for them without a second thought.

A map of the US showing states coloured red and blue according to how they voted last time around shows blue states clustered in the north east and on the west coast, while red dominates in the centre and south of the country (apart from Florida). Predictions for November’s election show a very similar picture to 2008 and 2012, but as we know predicting election results is a tricky business. Time will tell whether the predictions are accurate or not.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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