Color-Coding the Election:

It's quite spectacular, when you think about it, that we have reached a nationwide consensus and near perfect unanimity on at least one thing: Republicans are red, Democrats blue. It's incredibly useful - pretty much every web site I've looked at with election coverage uses the same colors, and it allows the graphic design to convey lots more information than it would be able to convey otherwise. Some of you may be too young to remember, but not that long ago -- 10 or 15 years or so, by my recollection -- the two parties didn't have conventionally recognized color codes, and we were stuck with elephants and donkeys as the signifiers. It's a nice little example of a classic "tipping point" problem in social coordination; faced with a choice where (a) no one alternative is inherently "better" than another (i.e. it doesn't really matter whether you make republicans blue or red); (b) everyone will benefit from adherence to any rule, but only if everyone else abides by the same rule; and (c) nobody is in a position to dictate the outcome, how do hundreds of millions of people come to agree on any one particular rule? In this case, if my memory is correct, it started with one of the tv networks (CNN?) during one of the elections in the '90s, which gave the color scheme enough instant credibility to be picked up very quickly by others -- but however it happened, it happened pretty fast (and will probably last forever).