Red States and Blue States: It Was Not Always Thus

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 know what really went on over the last 100 years.

Let’s start with 1904.

red states and blue states

Notice how that map bears a striking resemblance to this map:


Those colors are hardly coincidental: that image is pulled from Wikipedia.

Anyone today recognizes that map: “Those are the Red States and those are the Blue States.”

But, that doesn’t jive with what we see in this 1904 map:

red states and blue states

While the Civil War was certainly about States’ Rights to maintain the institution of chattel slavery, as seen in that map and any brief review of historical records, it’s clear 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: they so opposed the changes made to The South during Radical Republican Reconstruction that they would oppose the GOP for a century after.

But getting back to the Nadir: Woodrow Wilson, who was arguably one of the most racist presidents in all of American history, swept the nation in 1912.


This is the same Democrat who implemented the Federal Reserve Act in 1913 and promised to keep America out of World War I.

We all know how both of those things worked out.

But how did America respond, at the time?


I’ll bet that looks pretty weird, huh?

Only 100 years ago and the map looks almost inverted compared to this map of the 2012 election:


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”:



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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 many fed up white people moved out of The South.

For decades, those black people had counted as population but were blocked from voting, so when they left, it led 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 force to be reckoned with in American Politics, to this day.

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.

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Even in the 1950s, when the biggest war hero of the biggest war ever was running for president as a Republican, the only people who stubbornly refused to elect or reelect the man were living in The South.

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And just take a quick look at Stevenson: this was a Princeton graduate and a Unitarian Universalist – basically the opposite of The Stereotypical Bible-Thumping Christian we’ve come to associate with Southern Voters.

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. It is amazing to look back in a family history and see what people’s ancestors did. No wonder websites such as Genealogy Bank are famous and well used, people want to know where they have come from.

On another note, he was even from Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.

That’s how badly The South refused to vote Republican: they got behind that guy.

And then came 1960, where the election makes so little sense that I’m not even sure how to explain it.

A prettyboy Yankee ran against a sweaty bulldog from California and here’s how it played out…


How weird would that map look 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 the upper half of New England refused to vote for a guy who was from their own back yard.

1960 was a weird year.

But if you think that doesn’t make sense, check out 1964…


Again, this was 1956:


And less than a decade later, it looks like this:


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, but apparently so did the rest of the country.

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.

But, wait!

There’s more!


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 trying to elect whichever president had the highest likelihood of letting them get back to being outrageously racist.

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 only a decade earlier rallied behind him like The King of Hippie Ass-Kicking that he had come to be.


Well, everybody except Massachusetts and DC, who were 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, finally, all got behind one candidate.

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.

But we all know how that ended.

So, by 1976, it was basically back to the way things were before The Sixties.


The West Coast Powerhouse, going from less than 5% of the electoral vote in the 1920s to nearly 15% by the end of the 1970s, was the only thing that gave Ford a chance, likely due to Nixonian ties.

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 nor Vice-President.

But a lot of things were happening at the time, especially with the Supreme Court.

Abortion was legalized, Capital Punishment was abolished, and Civil Rights were on the rise, leading to a new injection of morality into politics that wasn’t present before.

And then came Ronald Reagan.


And if you think that looks like a landslide, take a look at this:


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 really 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, leading to a mass consolidation of conservative Christian voters.

Republicans 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.

Republicans freed the slaves (Lincoln), broke up monopolies (Roosevelt), ended child labor (also Roosevelt), gave women the right to vote (they had to beat Wilson’s door down to get that done), and pushed back against racist Democrat policies during the early 1900s (again, basically anything connected to Wilson).

Just something interesting to take note of that speaks to my point in this piece: things can change in ways that are almost unfathomable, even looking back at it.

Moving on.

Reagan left office in 1988 and Bush, who was essentially groomed for the presidency since Nixon, won in an almost-as-insane landslide as Reagan.


A big 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 presidential electoral world has looked pretty much the same, for almost as long as we can remember.

Look at the maps from 1992 to 2012.







It’s so formulaic, it makes television cop dramas look original.

We’ve just come to accept that we have red states and blue states, that 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: it’s been decades of this.

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: gender, race, and sex relations, especially, drove the second-half of the 20th Century to be the political environment it became.

Somehow, the Republican Party – the party who, again, championed labor laws and minorty’s rights – 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.

Before we start talking about red states and blue states, consider this: change can happen fast.

2 thoughts on “Red States and Blue States: It Was Not Always Thus

  1. Pingback: Joseph Fritz's BlogIn Response to Your Comment

  2. I know very little about American history. I’ve always been terrible at remembering names, dates and order of events. And I know you do this from a statistical point-of-view, but that’s one interesting read and you could make learning history interesting to even someone like me.

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