Designing Democracy: Ideas for Better Rules

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American political campaign branding has been dominated by red, white, and blue for far too long. Yes, these are the colors of our beloved flag, but the idea that presidential candidates have an unspoken obligation to pay homage to classic symbols of patriotism with their campaign branding seems decidedly outdated. American culture and politics have come a long way since the flag was designed.

Branding has become more sophisticated and pervasive, coming at citizens from every conceivable angle both on and offline. They are signaling that something new is coming with nontraditional color choices, and they are leading the next big leap in presidential branding—breaking the red, white, and blue color barrier. While the red, white, and blue mantra has dominated the last century of presidential campaign branding, there have been a few rebels along the way.

The most radical was Democrat Jimmy Carter in and He cultivated his image as a working man more comfortable on the farm than in bustling cities. He was often pictured in open collar shirts and blue jeans—unprecedented for presidential campaigns. For Carter, the disciplined use of green and white throughout all of his campaign materials was a sort of love letter to nature.

He rode the green all the way to the presidency in But Carter is the lone mainstream candidate within the two major parties who has taken a detour from the red, white, and blue highway of American presidential campaign branding. The first two African-American candidates for president from a major party—Democrats Shirley Chisholm in and Jesse Jackson in and —both incorporated bright yellows into their materials.

The significance of these candidacies is undeniable. They created a foundation upon which we can build a broader visual language to accurately reflect the diversity of our national identity. The high production value and disciplined branding of the Obama campaigns deserve a great deal of credit for raising the standards of campaign branding, proving that great branding provides a powerful platform to build trust, tell stories, and engage the public imagination. But experimenting with nontraditional color palettes was never in the cards.

I worked on a series of posters in support of the Obama campaign in and remember very intentionally exploring nontraditional color palettes precisely because it felt like something the official campaign would never do.

Is the Slide Into Tribal Politics Inevitable?

To say the least, the first two years of the Trump presidency have been tumultuous. For the presidential race, Democrats are poised to have the largest and most diverse pool of primary candidates ever.

In the age of MAGA , these candidates are trying to redefine what patriotism means in an inclusive, multiracial, ethnic, and cultural society in search of racial, social, economic, and environmental justice. After nearly a century of red, white, and blue dominance, four mainstream women candidates—Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tulsi Gabbard—have embraced color palettes that break from the established norm. Democratic women are making strategic choices that leverage their campaign branding to send a signal to the country that this time, things are different.

This is not politics as usual. Elizabeth Warren sets off the fairly traditional dark blue and red in her palette with an unexpected mint green to freshen things up. The overall impression gives off a fitting academic activist vibe. Kirsten Gillibrand has a long track record advocating for women.

The Framers’ Constitution : Democracy Journal

By contrast, the Democratic men who have entered the race thus far have taken fewer risks. Pete Buttigieg, John Delaney, Andrew Yang, and Richard Ojeda all came out the gate swaddled in the usual stars, stripes, and red, white, and blue.

The Perfect Country

A former mayor of San Antonio, Obama cabinet member, and Democratic National Convention keynote speaker, Castro has made some smart design moves with his branding. The limited blue palette does little to convey warmth, approachability, or a bold vision for new leadership. Unlike the female candidates, the men have 45 male presidents to whom they can harken back. Men continue to lean on the conventional wisdom and branding playbook of past winners.

Cato Journal

The result is a collection of bland, generic brands that feel like politics as usual at a time when Democrats have expressed a thirst for fresh, courageous leadership. For better or for worse, women have no such standard to uphold or rules to abide by. Add to Wishlist.

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