The Republican Party of the United States is commonly symbolized by the color red. But why exactly is the GOP linked with the bold, attention-grabbing shade of crimson? The association dates back decades and stems from a variety of factors related to America’s political history and culture.
While red had been informally connected to the Republican Party since at least the late 19th century, the link solidified during the contentious presidential election of 2000 between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. The race came down to the wire and hinged on the results in Florida, where a recount was ordered due to the razor-thin margin. During the 36-day recount period, major media outlets began using red for Republican states and blue for Democratic states on their electoral map projections. This colored coding helped TV viewers easily track which candidate was winning as results came in.
Though Gore narrowly won the popular vote, Bush ultimately prevailed in Florida after the Supreme Court halted the recount, giving him a majority in the Electoral College. With Bush carrying most Southern and Midwestern states that would form his base of red states in future elections, the media’s color-coding stuck in the public mindset. It was cemented as the Bush-Cheney ticket won re-election in 2004. Thus, while blue and red had bounced back and forth for much of U.S. history, the 2000 election brought consistency and helped solidify the partisan colors we still associate with Democrats and Republicans today.
Symbolic Meaning of Red
Aside from the origins of the red-GOP link in 2000, the color also aligns well symbolically with Republican Party principles. Red is associated with power, strength, vigor, passion, boldness and aggressiveness—traits consistent with the conservative movement. The bold hue evokes the party’s values of confidence, determination, ambition, independence, and fortitude in defending traditional American freedoms and ideas against liberal policies.
In design psychology, red is an attention-getting color that signifies action, energy, urgency, and importance. It’s no wonder that the color appeals to Republicans, as their fired-up base aims to elect leaders who will fight for their vision of America. Red is also connected with the military, patriotism, and sacrifice for the nation—notions that the Republican Party strongly identifies with.
Use in Campaigns and Media
Since 2000, red has become ubiquitous in Republican campaigns and political branding. Candidates launch red, white and blue campaign materials featuring their names in bold red letters. GOP internet ads and flyers blanket the web and mailboxes, saturated in shades of scarlet. Talking head Republican strategists fill the screens of Fox News and MSNBC, seated in front of vivid red backdrops. Republican officials speak confidently in front of podiums bearing the party’s red elephant symbol.
Conservative media outlets like National Review, Newsmax, and Breitbart sport red banners, brand logos, and headlines. Even the colors of the White House’s website were changed to red when President Trump took office in 2017. While blue is equally ubiquitous for Democrats, the passionate red brand has become a vital part of the Republican Party’s visual identity and culture.
|Election Year||Republican Candidate||Democratic Candidate|
|2000||George W. Bush||Al Gore|
|2004||George W. Bush||John Kerry|
|2008||John McCain||Barack Obama|
|2012||Mitt Romney||Barack Obama|
|2016||Donald Trump||Hillary Clinton|
|2020||Donald Trump||Joe Biden|
This table shows the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in elections since 2000, when the consistent association of red with Republicans and blue with Democrats became cemented.
Red States vs. Blue States
Beyond candidate branding, the divide between red states and blue states in presidential elections has become engrained in partisan geography. Republican-voting conservative states are concentrated in the South, Great Plains, and Mountain West. They form a massive bloc of electoral votes painted red on political maps. Meanwhile, Democratic-leaning blue states congregate on the coasts. The red state vs. blue state divide has led many to associate certain states, regions, and parts of the country with one party over the other.
Through a confluence of timing, symbolism, design, media repetition, and geographic voting patterns, red has become indelibly linked with the GOP in modern U.S. politics. Yet interestingly, in other parts of the world, red is associated with left-wing socialist and communist parties, while conservative parties use blue as their color. This demonstrates how color symbols can have very different cultural meanings and how the Republican-red association solidified largely by historical chance. Regardless, after over two decades of reinforcement, the red brand of the Republican Party seems unlikely to change anytime soon.