Red States and Blue States

Seeing a collection of election maps may affirm the phrases “Red State” and “Blue State” that one often hears. So here’s a question: how many states that are Red States, Blue States, and Purple States (where there’s actually quite a considerable percentage of both Democrats and Republicans) are there? Clearly a state that just votes 0.1% more for the Democratic candidate than for the Republican candidate isn’t really a Blue State, even if consistently.

So where shall we draw the boundary?

How about at one side getting 33.3% more votes than the other side? This way, given the assumption that votes to third parties are very small, the difference is cut at “there are at least 2 people on this side for each 1 on the other side”, which sounds quite lenient given the impression often given to us that Red States have such a dominance of Republicans and Blue States have such a dominance of Democrats, right?

Well, let’s go through the past 14 elections and count up how many Blue States and Red States there were in each election by this metric. (Why the past 14? Because the start of this period is about where the Democratic/Republican flip on political ideals happened.) (Also as an aside, note that the association of Democrats with blue and Republicans with red is substantially more recent than 14 elections ago.)

ObamaRomney election:
Blue States: Hawaii, Vermont
Red States: Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma
Purple States: 45 states

ObamaMcCain election:
Blue States: Hawaii, Vermont
Red States: none
Purple States: 48 states

BushKerry election:
Red States: Utah, Wyoming, Idaho
Blue States: none
Purple States: 47 states

BushGore election:
Red States: Utah, Wyoming, Idaho
Blue States: none
Purple States: 47 states

ClintonDole election:
Blue States: Massachusetts
Red States: none
Purple States: 49 states

ClintonBush election:
Blue States: none
Red States: none
Purple States: 50 states

BushDukakis election:
Red States: Utah
Blue States: none
Purple States: 49 states

ReaganMondale election:
Red States: Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Alaska, Arizona, Kansas
Blue States: none
Purple States: 41 states

ReaganCarter election:
Red States: Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Nevada, Wyoming
Blue States: none
Purple States: 44 states

CarterFord election:
Blue States: Georgia
Red States: none
Purple States: 49 states

NixonMcGovern election:
Red States: Mississippi, Georgia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, North Carolina, Wyoming, Idaho, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisiana
Blue States: none
Purple States: 35 states

NixonHumphrey election:
Red States: none
Blue States: none
Purple States: 50 states

JohnsonGoldwater election:
Blue States: Rhode Island, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, West Virginia, Connecticut, Michigan
Red States: Mississippi, Alabama
Purple States: 40 states

KennedyNixon election:
Blue States: none
Red States: none
Purple States: 50 states

In these lists, the only state that has managed to make either the Red States or Blue States list at least half the time is Utah, voting Republican with an over-33.3% margin 7 out of 14 elections. After Wyoming (6 out of 14 elections) and Idaho (5 out of 14 elections), all other states met this victory threshold no more than three times (on the Democratic side, Hawaii has the most instances, only 3). Georgia has appeared on both lists (though it should be noted that in its case getting on the Blue States list, the candidate was Carter).

In only two of these elections was there at least one state for each side for which the margin of victory was over 33.3%: Johnson-Goldwater and Obama-Romney. In one election (Clinton-Bush), not a single state even had a margin of victory of 20% in the vote.

The vast majority of states are Purple consistently (that is, having few exceptions being Blue or Red), having plenty of both Republicans and Democrats, with twenty states never being a Red State or a Blue State in any of these 14 elections. Among these twenty are California and Texas, the former often considered a land filled with Democrats and the latter almost always politically associated with Republicans.

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