The political West is far from monochrome, writes Walter Nugent
in Color Coded: Party Politics in the American West, 1950–2016
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2018). Over the last half century and more, most of the states in the West have voted both Democratic and Republican on the national level, with only a handful remaining consistently with one party over that whole period (and even those, such as South Dakota, have significant exceptions). Nugent, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame and past president of the Western History Association, provides a detailed analysis of each Western state’s modern political history. In doing so, he explains that, while rarely was there a single factor that determined how a state would vote for its senators, governor, or president, crucial factor such as demographic change, state-level party apparatus, and change-making individuals all play vital roles. Whether a state went for the Democratic or Republican candidate was a decision that, in Nugent’s words, often sat balanced “on the edge of a knife.” Color Coded
is an in-depth look at how Western politics can often defy expectations, and underscores how the red/blue dichotomy is often unsuitable for a region as diverse as the American West.
Stephen Hausmann is an Assistant Professor of US History at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He teaches courses on modern US history, environmental history, and Indigenous history and is currently working on his book manuscript, an environmental history of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.