Why Democrats Are Blue and Republicans Are Red—and Why It’s the Opposite Everywhere Else

Why Democrats Are Blue and Republicans Are Red—and Why It’s the Opposite Everywhere Else


Why does red mean conservative and blue mean liberal in America, but in the rest of the world it’s the other way around? Red states and blue states? It hasn’t always been this way. Up until 2004, the standard color scheme for maps used by political operatives in Washington used blue for Republican and red for Democrat. This color scheme was based on the UK’s, blue for the Conservative Party and red for the socialist-leaning Labour Party. Republican blue also hearkened back to the blue uniforms worn by Union soldiers under Republican President, Abraham Lincoln. It was the color of the Federalist Party, from which the Republican Party sprang, so that was the color scheme for the maps used by political insiders. But what about the maps the rest of us saw? Since the Republican and Democratic parties had no official colors, color TV and print publications had to make their own choices about how to represent that map. Although many use the Republican-blue/Democratic-red color scheme favored in Washington, most choices were arbitrary and varied over the years, with Republicans even sometimes appearing yellow. But in the year 2000, chance had it that nearly all major networks used blue for Democrats and red for Republicans, as did the New York Times, where a top graphics editor, Archie Tay, says that the choice was made because red begins with “R” and Republican begins with “R.” It was this 2000 election color scheme that finally stuck in the public consciousness. The election was intensely divisive and dragged out long past Election Day, so it received weeks of coverage in which Bush was red and Gore was blue. By the next election cycle, the Democratic and Republican parties themselves had adopted these colors in their visual branding and there was no turning back. But what about the rest of the world? In the UK, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, and Taiwan, to name just a few, conservative parties are blue and liberal parties are red. The reason has less to do with blue and more to do with red – which has a long-standing association with protests and revolution. For a long time, red flags have been used as a fight signal. Medieval European fighter ships, for example, raised red streamer flags to signal a fight to the death. The red flag continued to be used similarly throughout Europe until the French Revolution. But after the radical Jacobins rose up under the red flags, the color solidified as an international symbol of uprising. Mexicans adopted it in the Alamo, Garibaldi in Italy. Soon workers began to use it as a symbol of their power to revolt. The second French Revolution in the Paris Commune flew red flags and by the end of the 19th century, the color had been adopted by communists across Europe. So by 1905, when the British Labour Party formed, red was the obvious choice for liberal branding. So how about blue? The UK’s Conservative Party had been using the national colours of red, white, and blue, but by the 30s, red labour had become its primary political opposition. So the Conservative Party dropped red and redefined itself in contrast to labour. Many of the other center-right parties around the world simply modeled their look after the UK’s. There’s also a second group of blue conservative parties: the ones that use light blues, azure, or cyan, like the Forza Italia in Italy, the Partido Popular in Spain, and the Österreichische Volkspartei in Austria. These parties have their roots in Catholicism, and they chose blue because that’s the colour associated with the Virgin Mary in Christian iconography – which, by the way, is why up until the 1940s, little girls were dressed in blue and little boys were dressed in pink, because it was seen as a boyish alternative of the strong and manly red. The point is these things change, so don’t rule out some new party colors in 2028.