Presidential Electors and the Electoral College: An Examination of Lobbying, Wavering Electors, and Campaigns for Faithless Votes

by Robert M. Alexander


*This book is in the Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy in America book series
(Series editors: Scott Frisch and Sean Kelly)

This study examines the role of presidential electors in the presidential selection process. The research conducted here provides the authoritative treatment detailing who these anonymous, yet integral political figures are through mail surveys of presidential electors from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Electoral Colleges.

Examining each of these elections as distinct cases reveals that a great deal of political activity that has heretofore gone undetected occurs during the period when citizens cast their votes for their presidential ticket and the time when electors cast their vote for their presidential ticket. Intensive lobbying campaigns aimed to persuade electors to change their votes have occurred in each of the past three elections. Moreover, it appears that a potentially receptive audience exists within this elite political institution. Surprisingly, not all electors identify themselves as strong partisans nor do they see themselves as ideologues. Electors vary sharply in the amount of political and financial commitment they make to their respective parties and presidential candidates. Many factors influence the type of individual who serve as a presidential elector. The context of a presidential election, how parties select presidential electors, and a party’s presidential ticket account for many variations among presidential electors. The findings suggest that presidential electors should be given far more attention than they currently receive. If past is prologue, elector lobbying campaigns will persist in future elections and a significant number of electors will consider joining the ranks of past “faithless electors” needlessly putting the Republic at risk.

The role of presidential electors is integral to the presidential selection process, yet virtually no scholarship exists detailing this important linkage between the citizenry and America’s next president. Surprisingly, no other book has explicitly investigated these mysterious figures who translate popular votes to electoral votes. To undertake this study, the author surveyed members of the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Electoral Colleges to find out who these individuals were, how they became electors, and what they thought about the institution. The responses received were overwhelming—in their profundity and in their revelations. Over 60% of electors responded to each of the surveys conducted. This data comprises one of the most comprehensive treatments of presidential electors ever assembled. More importantly, the data reveal a significant risk to the presidential selection process—one that has not yet been systematically analyzed.

The data reveal two completely new findings regarding presidential elections that have heretofore never been systematically examined. First, in each of the past three elections, intensive elector lobbying campaigns have occurred seeking to persuade electors to vote contrary to expectations. These campaigns have taken place in the period between the general election and the time electors cast their votes in December. Second, and most important, a significant number of electors actually consider voting for candidates contrary to expectations. The data reveal that the presidential selection process is indeed threatened by a sizable number of potentially faithless or what is termed here as “wavering” electors. This finding has far reaching consequences both in the scholarly community and for the integrity of the presidential selection process. For instance, in 2004, nearly 10% of presidential electors and in 2008, over 11% of presidential electors considered voting for someone other than to whom they were pledged. As a reference point, this would be analogous to California’s entire delegation considering defecting from their party’s presidential ticket. These findings are completely novel, unexpected, and alarming. This study should stimulate great debate among scholars and laymen alike regarding the role of presidential elector.

The Electoral College is already a controversial institution. Yet, the arguments offered in this study will likely create much more concern over the way presidents are selected. The study develops a theory of elector behavior that takes into account an elector’s motivation to “make a statement against their party,” “make a statement against their party’s candidate,” or to “make a statement against electoral practices.” The theory and findings are completely original and have far reaching implications for presidential elections and the Electoral College. In short, this project is wholly original, addresses a previously neglected topic, and reveals a real-world problem that has significant consequences for American democracy.

Presidential Electors and the Electoral College is an important study for students of the presidency, political parties, interest groups, institutions, and recent U.S. history. Party professionals (including electors themselves) will also be very interested in this book. Finally, organizations interested in electoral reform (such as Fair Vote and the National Popular Vote Campaign) will also find this work to be of great interest.

Read the CNN article.

Watch Professor Alexander's interview on NPR.

Dr. Alexander was also asked by CNN to weigh in on the 2013 government shutdown.


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