Monday, November 04, 2002

For starters, my name is Matt Evans and I'm a friend of Stuart's. Stuart has graciously invited me to post on his blog, something I hope to do on occasion.

Just a moment ago I was reminded of something that has irritated me for the last couple of elections: the media's choice of colors for their political maps. If you recall from the 2000 election coverage, all of the major networks began the night with a white map of the US, and as the election results were reported they would fill in the state to indicate whether Gore or Bush had won. Gore was Blue, Bush was Red. The nationwide county-by-county map that Paul Begala made famous had the same schematic: Republicans live in red counties, Democrats live in blue counties. My beef is that the media never varies from this color scheme.

Of course I know why they use red and blue rather than purple and yellow. Just as the networks' new, just-for-this-election-cycle logos are doused in American motifs, they stick with red, white and blue on the maps. [Aside: why the networks redesign their election coverage logos every year just because the Superbowl does isn't clear to me.] OK, I take that back; I actually do know why the media takes their cues from the biggest television spectacle of the year.

In any event, I understand why the media uses red and blue for the two largest political parties in America.

My complaint, then, isn't that the press isn't spinning a color wheel to decide if the Democrats will be teal or tangerine yellow in 2002. It's that Democrats always get to be blue. And if you haven't played Candyland with kids as often as I have, you may not realize that most everyone wants to be blue. In my family, for example, we take turns being blue -- since Madeline was blue last time, Jefferson can be blue this time. Because I'm the Dad, I get the leftovers. Which has yet to be blue.

Now if I'm magnanimous with my children, always letting them be blue, you might ask why I don't do the same for the Democrats. The reason is simple: the use of color influences the way the public perceives the political parties. And unlike Candyland, where color has no bearing on the outcome of the game, the public's perceptions of the political parties influences real elections. I don't care if I win Candyland, but I do care if Republicans win elections.

Now before you decide that I'm a crazed kook, only halfway through my first post, let me unequivocally state that I do not believe Dole would have beaten Clinton in 1996 but for the fact that he bore the extra burden of representing the Red Party. I concede that any actual color-effect is slight.

But color does matter. As you drive around town over the next couple of days, notice the color schemes on campaign posters. It is not simply coincidence that wherever you are in the country, you see very few turquoise or lavender political posters. Mostly, you will see blue. Medium-dark blue, to be more precise. The last four big presidential campaigns, Clinton/Gore, Dole/Kemp, Gore/Lieberman, and Bush/Cheney, all used a very similar shade of blue. Both gubernatorial candidates are using the same blue in Maryland. So, I'm sure, are most of the major candidates where you live. Anytime you see a yellow sign, it's due to one of three reasons: 1- they're running for school board, 2- it's their first and last election, or 3- they can't afford to produce many signs so they have to ensure that the few they do produce stand out in the sea of blue signs. The big campaigns use blue because blue, besides being most people's favorite color, is suggestive of resolve, soberness, authenticity, and level-headedness.

Red, by contrast, is the color of tempestuousness, passion, radicalism, zealotry, and irrationality.

These characteristics align perfectly with the ways the media's caricatures of the parties. As is convincingly shown in the latest Public Interest, the press is much more likely to highlight fringe elements (read: Red) within the Republican than it is within the Democratic party. Perhaps the media's use of red for Republicans helps explain why the article's authors write, "survey results indicate that the more attention a person pays to the national political news media, and especially to television news, the more likely is that individual to believe that Christian fundamentalists are ideologically extreme and politically militant."

Republican = Red = Extreme = Red = Militant = Red = Fundamentalist

I don't pretend to know how the current color arrangement came to be, but it's unthinkable that the graphic designers involved didn't realize the implications of the decision.

Regardless of how it started, to objectively and impartially cover the political parties, the press must rotate the parties' colors. From experience, I know my kids would persuasively argue that justice demands Republicans get a turn as blue as long as was the Democrats'.


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