As the American political drama goes on, it is interesting to look at the changes on the political spectrum in America’s different states.
We often see media use the terms “blue” or “red” to describe political parties in their daily reports. Accordingly, the first question is, “What is the representative, blue or red?” The second question is whether “red” and “blue” still represent some other meaning, i.e., liberal or conservative, or do they represent geographical or social difference? It seems that we should check these political words so as to better understand American politics in this coming election year.
The U.S. is a typical two-party system involving the Republic Party and the Democratic Party. Usually, states that Republicans dominate are called “red states,” and states where Democrats lead are called “blue states.” The competition and fighting between them is the best reflection of current American politics, which is regarded as the most divided period of American history.
Generally speaking, blue states are located on the western and eastern coasts (more specifically, northeastern) and mostly centered in big cities, such as Los Angeles in California and New York. The vast Midwest region belongs to red states, known as America’s big farm area. Under this spectrum, we can easily figure out where both parties have their advantages: red has the upper hand in terms of number of states, blue in population.
Therefore, Republicans should easily be the Senate majority, because the Constitution rules every state has the same number of senators. On the contrary, because the House representatives are distributed based on population, the Democratic Party has more possibility to become the House majority. This presents a clear party line for understanding American politics and election.
However, the political reality is actually more complicated than this, and the boundary line is also evolving, especially in the House. For example, in the 2018 mid-term congressional elections, the Democratic Party won the election by a landslide, not only in the red districts of blue states, but also in some red states the Republican Party had dominated since the 1950s. It highlights some new, interesting developments for the 2020 election. More interestingly, it also presents a more unpredictable future for whether Donald Trump will be re-elected.
Before Trump’s shocking triumph in 2016, it seemed that “red” and “blue” was just a topic for fun in political fields. Even if there was a difference, it was focused on some traditional fields, like supporting a big versus small government. However, changes have taken place quickly and subversively in some key social and political topics, such as medical care and abortion. More specifically, compared with blue states, red states hold relatively conservative social values in these relevant fields. In this way, American values are severely struggling between red and blue.
Besides, there is another kind of state in between red and blue, which are called “swing states” (or “purple states”). Basically, swing states are where neither Republicans nor Democrats do not regularly dominate the presidential and congressional elections, and they always play a key and decisive role in American presidential elections.
History has proved it again and again. The typical case was the 2000 presidential election with then-candidates George W. Bush versus Al Gore, where Florida showed how a swing state can overturn the final results of the whole country’s election. In 2016, swing states played a role once more. Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a narrow majority in the five swing states including Florida.
As American politics is polarizing, a final “red versus blue” fight is definitely an important highlight in the 2020 election. Besides who will win the presidential ticket, a more interesting and important question worth observing is how Congress will be reshuffled. More importantly, under the Trump’s era, what kind of changes can be found and passed on from the voters’ decision in 2020? It will definitely influence the future of the United States for a very long time, because it not only reflects the transition of losses and gains in red and blue states, but also examines why American social and political identity are heading to such disorder. In this way, red versus blue is a value choice in the fight ahead.
(The author is a visiting scholar at the Department of Political Science, University of Iowa.)