Understanding Political Color Designations

Recently, the Republican and Democratic political conventions filled our television screens with splashes of fiery red and royal blue, the colors associated with our major opposing political parties. However, in color choice, the United States is unlike the rest of the world. Globally, long-standing traditions dictate which colors represent specific political camps. Here, the assignment of red to the Republicans and blue to the Democrats is not a reflection of each group's ideology. Rather, this color designation is the result of a collective decision made by major media networks and the general public during the drawn-out and contentious election battle between Al Gore and George Bush in 2000.

Although presidents Cleveland and Harrison used blue maps to represent the Republican Party in the late 1800s and Texas used similar color-coding to assist its Spanish-speaking and illiterate citizens during that same time period, neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party has ever officially chosen a color to represent its organization. With the advent of color technology, television networks created their own identifying colors, often alternating with each new election to avoid any appearance of favoritism. However, in 2000 for the first time, all the major news outlets agreed to use red for the Republican Party and blue for the Democratic Party.

Perhaps it was the fact that Al Gore had chosen blue campaign lawn signs while George Bush promoted himself with red ones. In any case, NBC news analyst Tim Russert was the first reporter to coin the terms "blue state" and "red state." Viewers were subjected to colorfully illuminated election maps, not just for one night but for the month that followed as Florida wrestled with voting controversies. Since then, red has become the unofficial but widely accepted color for the Republican Party, and blue has been informally assigned to the Democratic Party.

Throughout the rest of the world, specific colors carry very specific designations and are widely understood by the general population:

  • Blue - The color of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and British conservatives of the UK. "Tory blue" is associated with more right-wing, conservative political thought.

  • Red - Canada's "Liberal red" and Britain's Labor Party are considered more socialist, or left-wing. In some cases, red is associated with communistic governments. During the McCarthy era in the U.S., pink was the color of socialist ideology.

  • Yellow - Libertarians value the gold standard, and yellow is the obvious choice for their party color.

  • Green - This color serves the environmentally conscious organizations, Islamic political groups and the Irish Republican Party. In the U.S., it has been used occasionally for significant third-party candidates such as Ross Perot.

  • Purple - Once held in reserve for royalty, this color has been co-opted by organized feminists. Purple is also used to designate regions that have mixed loyalties.

  • Black - This ominous color represents extreme governments. Mussolini's fascist "blackshirts" may be partly responsible for the violent association. Anarchist groups also often choose black symbolism.

  • Orange - Some religious organizations with political interests have adopted this color.

  • White - In many parts of the world, white is the universal symbol of pacifism.

Despite the fact that the U.S. has broken stride with the rest of the world in color-coding its political parties, the end results have been the same. During the last 12 years, most Americans have come to associate red with the Republican Party and blue with the Democratic Party. Expect to see these colors posted in yards and neighborhoods across the country during the next three months. Without reading any sign, you'll immediately recognize both the party that is advertising and the political persuasion of the property owners! Today, color carries a powerful branding factor, not just in business but also in politics.