I hear a lot of people talking about red states and blue states, often speaking of them as if it’s a set-in-stone phenomenon. Unfortunately, because American History taught in high school often glosses over 20th Century History (especially the political side), many people don’t have a clue what really went on over the last 100 years.
Let’s start with 1904.
You may notice how that map bears a striking resemblance to this map:
Those colors are hardly coincidental: that image is pulled from Wikipedia.
“Those are the red states and those are the blue states.”
But, because you just saw what the political climate actually was, you know it’s not actually that simple.
While the Civil War was certainly about States’ Rights, it’s fascinating to see how the Democratic Party took over the South during the Nadir of American Race Relations.
In fact, the Democratic Party led the charge when it came to discriminatory policies and racist politicians.
Woodrow Wilson, who was arguably one of the most racist presidents in all of American history, swept the nation in both elections.
This is the same Democrat who implemented the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, which led to all kinds of financial/economic issues that continue to this day.
How did America respond?
Just look at those red states and blue states. I’ll bet that looks pretty weird, huh?
I actually think the most intense thing about the 1916 map is the population: look at the Republican Political Powerhouse that is the Northern USA!
Of the entire 531 electoral votes found in the 48 States…183 of those votes came from seven states, in the beltway from Illinois to Massachusetts!
That means that nearly 35% of American votes were controlled by only 15% of the States.
A very small number of states, but a very large part of the population, nearly got Hughes elected over Wilson.
Gotta’ love the electoral college: this election was decided by the nearly-deserted states in the Mountain/Desert region of the USA, many of which had the bare-minimum number of electoral votes.
But, by the 1920s, we were back to Politics “As Usual”:
But after the Republican debacle that was The Roaring Twenties, causing The Great Depression, Americans decided they needed a new plan and a New Deal.
Beyond the obviousness of the entire country going blue, we see some other interesting things happen to the population.
Nearly every Southern State’s voting power was decreased.
People moved away.
Going back to what I mentioned about the Nadir of American Race Relations – this was a period of time where large portions of black people and less-racist white people moved out of The South.
All those black people in The South, who counted as population but were blocked from voting, got out of there, leading to a more accurate portrayal of deserved electoral votes Down South.
While lots of people throughout the nation moved west to California (who nearly doubled its electoral standing within a decade), the increase of population in Northern cities kept the Illinois-to-New-England Beltway a powerhouse in American Politics.
The 1950s is harder to analyze, given that we had one of the biggest war heroes in US History running for president.
The only people who stubbornly refused to elect the man were living in The South, where racism reached an apex when Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on the “I Hate Black People” ticket and nearly swept The Deep South.
But here’s how the 1950s played out:
The Deep South continued to be such hardcore Democrats that, despite the fact that the incumbent president had been a linchpin in winning the largest war in history and was hugely popular nationwide, they still stuck to their guns and refused to get on the bus (all while making black people move to the back of it).
And let’s not forget that Stevenson was a Princeton graduate and a Unitarian Universalist: pretty much the opposite of The Stereotypical Bible-Thumping Christian we’ve come to associate with Southern Voters.
Or the fact that his family history dated back to being key supporters of Abraham Lincoln, the most famous Republican president in American History, who led the Union during The American Civil War that destroyed The South.
He was even from Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.
That’s how badly The South refused to vote Republican.
And then came 1960, the election that makes such little sense that I’m not even sure how to explain it.
A prettyboy Yankee ran against a sweaty bulldog from California: here’s how it played out…
How weird would that map look if it was on CNN today?
That’s only 50 years ago!
California, which had more-than-tripled its voting power over the last half-century, led the land West of the Mississippi in American Republicanism.
But the real thing is, we start to see some interesting divisions.
Florida becomes a Beacon of Republicanism in a mostly-Democratic Deep South and half of New England refused to vote for a guy who was from their own back yard.
1960 was a weird year.
But then came 1964…
Seriously: what the fuck?
A mere four years later, California has 400% of the Electoral Vote that it had in 1910 while the Racist Beltway of The Deep South flip-flopped from Blue to Red.
It’s like Bizarro World.
Just goes to show you what happens when you shoot a president in the head: the whole country loses their minds.
That Southern Beltway, not content to simply spit in the face of however the rest of the country was voting, went back to their time-honored tradition of electing whichever president had the highest likelihood of letting them get back to lynching people.
They were pretty pissed off about the whole Civil Rights thing; they needed someone to get the country back on track with the ass-backwards way they thought things ought to be.
And then came 1970, where a country who told Richard Nixon to piss off a decade earlier rallied behind him like The King of Hippie Ass-Kicking that he had come to be.
Massachusetts was still apparently pissed off about losing Kennedy and refused to vote for the guy who ran against him 12 years before.
But the rest of the country bled red!
After all, there was a military war going on in Asia and a cultural war going on at home.
It was the perfect time to be Nixon.
So, by 1976, it was back to the way things were before The Nixon Era.
The West Coast Powerhouse (making up 12% of the Electoral College) was the only thing that gave Ford a chance, but the rest of the country was pretty pissed about electing a paranoid lunatic into the most powerful office in the nation during the last election, so pretty much every state East of the Mississippi decided not to elect his underling: to this day, Ford is the only US President to have never been elected into either the office of President or Vice-President.
Turns out that, while it makes for entertaining television, letting Homer Simpson run the power plant isn’t really such a great idea.
And then came Ronald Reagan.
And if you think that looks like a landslide, take a look at this:
An even bigger onslaught than we saw in 1972!
Despite the fact that Reagan only won the Popular Vote with 59%, he took 98% of the Electoral Vote.
Debates about the merits/problems of the Electoral College aside, what you are looking at is The Moment Everything Changed.
And there’s a lot of reasons for it.
The South switched from “We Hate Black People” to “We Love Jesus,” making the Republican platform on abortion extremely appealing.
Republicans also stopped being pro-Federal (Eisenhower and Nixon built up the Federal Government more than anyone in the 20th Century, save for FDR) and went back to their anti-big-government roots set up by Jefferson (who, ironically, also did more to strengthen the Federal System than any other president until Lincoln…who was also a Republican).
Reagan left in 1988 and Bush, who was essentially groomed for the presidency by Reagan, won in an almost-as-insane landslide.
The only reason Bush took such a large part of the country (including what had become the Electoral Monster State of California, with its 47 electoral Votes) is thanks to Reagan’s support.
But for anyone under the age of 40 years old, the world has seemed like this for almost as long as we can remember.
It’s so formulaic, it makes television cop dramas look original.
We’ve just come to accept that “Here we see the red states and blue states.
The North and West goes to the Democrats and The South and Middle goes to the Republicans.”
And it’s not hard to see why.
The only reason we saw a few Southern states in the 1990s going Democrat was because Clinton was from Arkansas, one of the most Southern states in the South, despite being on the wrong side of the Mississippi.
Seriously, ask someone from Georgia if Arkansas is part of The South: it’s a hoot.
Red States and Blue States
So that’s the history of American Presidential Elections, regarding red states and blue states, over the last hundred years, or so.
Although we get it into our heads that “that’s the way it is,” that’s hardly the way it’s always been.
Parties change their stances on issues: race relations, especially, drove the second-half of the 20th Century to be the political environment it became.
Somehow, the Republican Party – the party who freed black slaves and got women the right to vote – flipped a switch during the 1960s and 1970s and turned into its own Doppelganger.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, who opposed Civil Rights at every turn for most of its existence, is now its greatest proponent.
So, before you start talking about red states and blue states, consider this: change is only a coin-flip away.
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