Have you ever wondered why red is associated with Republicans? Or why donkeys are the Democratic animal? Have you just assumed that this is the way things have always been so why ask questions when you don't really care what the answers are anyway?
WELL, SHAME ON YOU. This is our country's political reality, people. You should care! At least a little. And at least about these kinds of trivia bits that are good party conversation. At least, they're good party conversation for tonight, and on other election nights. Don't try talking to people about this stuff at a New Year's Eve party. They're likely to back the fuck away from you and for good reason. But, if you want to impress people tonight, read on.
Republicans are Red, Just Like Communists
Strange, isn't it, that the Republican Party—former home to Communist-hunting Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy—is associated with the color red. But has it always been that way? If not, when did it start? Well, no, it has not always been that way. But what is really startling is how recently the colors red and blue became firmly associated with teh Republican and Democratic parties respectively. Smithsonianmag.com has a really fascinating article explaining that, up until 2000, the colors weren't firmly identified with either party. Apparently, "in the beginning, blue was red and red was blue and they changed back and forth from election to election and network to network in what appears, in hindsight, to be a flight of whimsy. The notion that there were 'red states' and 'blue states'—and that the former were Republican and the latter Democratic—wasn’t cemented on the national psyche until the year 2000."
That seems so recent! In fact, prior to the 2000 election, there was no uniformity in the colors used, so different TV channels and news outlets would do whatever they wanted. It was total anarchy. Oh, what a world.
The Democratic Donkey
The donkey's association with the Democratic party actually dates back almost two centuries ago, to the time of Democratic President Andrew Jackson. It was during the election of 1828 that Jackson's opponents labeled him a "jackass." Which, yes, the man is on the $20 bill, but also, did you know that he really wanted to abolish the Electoral College? Without which, there would be no need for red states or blue states or anything? Anyway, Jackson had a sense of humor about it and decided to adopt the donkey as his spirit animal, and thus the Democratic Donkey was born.
The Republican Elephant
The elephant became associated with the Republican Party back in 1874, at a time when the Republicans were able to still call themselves the party of Lincoln without even a trace of irony. Cartoonist Thomas Nast drew an image of the Democratic "donkey clothed in lion's skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled 'The Republican Vote.'" So, this was a time when the Republicans were considered stalwart and brave. My, my, how times have changed.
Third Party Candidates Never Stand A Chance
It seems so obvious—though frustrating—that we are a strong two party system in America. I mean, has a third party candidate ever had a shot at winning? Or has their only hope ever been messing with the two major parties?
Well, while no third party candidate has ever come truly close, there have been some interesting contenders. There was Eugene V. Debs, who ran as a member of the Socialist Party in 1920 and won 3.4% of the popular vote—even though he was in prison at the time! And Ross Perot, though not picking up any Electoral College votes, actually won 18.9% of the popular vote in 1992. But perhaps the most interesting—and certainly most successful—third party candidate of all time was former-President Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as a member of the Bull Moose Party in 1912 and won 88 Electoral College votes and 27.4% of the popular vote.
All of this information is interesting sure. But none of it will be fun to share with your friends and loved ones if you can't also say that you've voted today. So, if you haven't yet, go do that. Now!
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen