Please consider downloading the latest version of Internet Explorer
to experience this site as intended.
Tools Search Main Menu

Do political term limits work?

June 21, 2019
Close up of an expired parking meter.Legislative term limits were expected to replace career politicians with so-called “citizen legislators,” according to University of Rochester political scientist Lynda Powell. Yet term limits have not led to a significant increase in citizen-legislators, she told the Subcommittee on the Constitution. (Getty Images photo)

Between 1990 and 1995, 21 states adopted legislative term limits, and 15 still have them on the books today.

But did they really produce the intended change?

Term limits were expected to replace career politicians with so-called “citizen legislators,” who intended to serve a short while and then return to their pervious occupation, according to Lynda Powell, a professor of political science at the University of Rochester.

An expert on campaign finance, representation and legislative polarization, legislative elections and institutions, and Congress and state legislatures, Powell testified this week on Capitol Hill before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, chaired by Republican Senator Ted Cruz from Texas.

Powell, who has studied the matter since 1995, told the subcommittee that term limits had not led to a significant increase in citizen-legislators, nor to a decrease in career-oriented politicians.

Instead, she found that in states with term limits politicians often ran simply for another office. Powell discovered no differences in demographic composition between term limit newcomers and other newcomers when it came to politicians’ level of education, income, age, race, gender, occupation, ideology, and ideological extremism.

Term limits did, however, have an immediate effect on legislator behavior.

“We found that members in term limit chambers spent less time on keeping in touch with their constituents, on casework, and on pork,” said Powell. Yet, there was no difference between term limit and non-term limit chambers when it came to time spent on campaigning and fundraising.

The strongest findings involved institutional effects. “When term limits are implemented in legislatures, governors, as well as bureaucrats and civil servants, gain considerable influence at the expense of legislatures,” Powell said.

Tags: , , ,

Category: Society & Culture

Contact Author(s)