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Term Limits: A Solution to Congressional Gridlock, Lobbyists, and Voter Indifference to Elections?

In the United States, the average age of a legislator in Congress is fifty-nine. [1] This is problematic, as young people are impacted by the legislative decisions made by politicians nearly thrice their age. Elderly politicians have been successful in their long political tenure because of the incumbency advantage. One benefit to the incumbency is the relationship between political parties and incumbents, where the legislator pledges support for the party’s platform in exchange for donations or endorsements. The incumbency advantage points may be partially eliminated by imposing term limits. Term limits can also enable Congress to be more representative of the electorate and diverse than it currently stands.



The act of introducing fresh faces to a project is not revolutionary. In fact, it is a technique used in nearly every field to revitalize a previously stalled project. When a business in the private sector cannot solve a problem, they hire a consulting firm to lend them new perspectives on their operations. When a doctor cannot come to a diagnosis for their patient, they recruit a colleague as a fresh set of eyes to see if they have any new ideas. In many ways, this idea can be applied to how we think about elected representation in government.

According to the United States Constitution, a president is permitted two four-year terms in office. Forcing the electorate to choose a new person for the position means there is a greater chance that a new President will make changes, hopefully for the better. This forced turnover allows the executive branch to introduce a new set of eyes to analyze problems facing America in at least every eight years.

Congress, however, faces no such limits on the time that a legislator can serve in office. Without a forced turnover and the many advantages conferred upon incumbents challengers are almost certain to lose in an election. The most recent and direct case that addresses this is US Term Limits V. Thornton (1995) in which the Supreme Court declared that states instituting term limits on their Congressional representatives functionally acted to change the constitutionally prescribed requirements to be a Congressional representative, which states are not permitted to do any more than they are permitted to change citizenship requirements. [2] While that ruling meant that Congressional term limits on the state level for federal office are unconstitutional, that does not necessarily mean they would be harmful to America or the principles that it represents. The founding fathers at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 decided that counting enslaved persons as three-fifths of a person in the population-based apportionment of Congressional seats was the “constitutional” way to conduct votes. [3] By doing so, the founding fathers used the growing slave population to their advantage by counting them in the population of the state thus giving the state more power, while also ensuring that slaves were not considered people and guaranteed rights. While the present-day United States recognizes this error, citizens should open their eyes to the distinct possibility of overlooked wrongdoings in underpinning documents and ideas which governs their country. America is not a country that is bound by a set of laws but rather the idea to promote “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” for all that may reside within its borders, and sometimes the laws need to change in order to more effectively address the core principles.

Imposing term limits may help alleviate some of the gridlock in Congress, loosen the grip of lobbyists, and encourage Americans to be more attuned to the election process, which altogether will work to make the political system more representative and responsive to the voice of the American people.


Lawrence Jackson/WhiteHouse.Gov

Gridlock in groups of people or organizations happens when ideological differences lead to indecision. In Congress, gridlock presents a lack of bipartisanship or cross-isle cooperation which results in low efficiency and/or effectiveness of government. Though gridlock in our government is not new, it is one of the top complaints of voters when asked about their reasons for disapproval of Congress. [4] Modern-day gridlock is a combination of deep party-line tensions and Congressional fear of making waves that could cost them their seat in the next election. Gridlock in Congress can affect everything from keeping the government-funded to addressing issues of national importance. When gridlock gets in the way of what the electorate wants, it creates apathy and mistrust of those charged with leading the country. Gridlock can take on many forms, but none of them fruitful for the governing body, whose duty it is to work for the American people.

The 115th Congress had the highest level of bipartisanship when compared to the past twenty years of Congress in which 68 percent of all enacted bills received bipartisan support. [5] This supposed increase in cooperation across the aisle might indicate that despite seeing very little turnover in representatives, Congress can still function. In reality, however, this was not the case. The vast majority of the bills passed were procedural in nature which mostly sought to “rename buildings, award medals, designate special days”, and other non-substantive changes to government policy. [6] In total, only three percent of all bills introduced were passed and six percent of which were voted upon. [7] In a divided congress, we would either witness a larger number of votes on bills or have fewer bills introduced because there would be less ‘positioning’ for the next election on how bills are treated by the party with control of the Senate or House. Limiting the number of times representatives can run for Congress could work to motivate them to work on bills that might actually get passed. Increased cooperation in Congress would benefit the American people by reducing bipartisanship in the government and increasing the likelihood of Congress passing legislation that would enact substantive change.

It should then be no surprise that Congress had the highest level of cross-aisle cooperation without much being accomplished. This redners the legislative session ‘cooperative’ in the sense that bills were passed with the support of both parties but failed to truly demonstrate what a group committed to working together looks like. Despite passing a few important pieces of legislation such as the notable and contended Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, making significant changes to the tax code, and the Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act of 2019, addressing the opioid crisis through providing funding, Congress still falls short of operating to its full potential. If the members of Congress knew that their ability to govern in their current position was limited to a set number of terms, it may push them to be more willing to collaborate on bipartisan legislation, increasing the number of introduced bills that would likely get a vote, and hopefully producing better outcomes for the American people.

If term limits were instituted where each representative is only allowed a set of terms that they can hold a position for, then representatives who want a favorable portrait in history would be less likely to spend their time with partisan politics. When representatives leave D.C., they would be thrust back into the communities that they represented. Their accomplishments and failures would be known by their community, giving them a higher incentive to work tirelessly and compromise during their time in office. Pushing elected representatives back into their communities after serving their limited number of terms makes governing personal and takes away the theatrical nature that often characterizes politics in the media.


House of Cards, Media Rights Capital

In American politics, while voters elect representatives to vote on bills, it does not require a representative to be an expert in any given policy area. Thus, lobbyists are hired by politicians or political organizations who hope to persuade people with political power to represent their best interests. Interests represented by lobbyists can range from special treatment of building depreciation for tax purposes or expanding drilling rights in the Alaskan tundra. [8] Though lobbyists might have a unpleasant reputation for operating in the shadows or contributing to the corruption in Washington, their existence or participation in the governing process is not inherently harmful. One main criticism of lobbyists is that their persuasion efforts may have a significant impact on a policy that far outweighs the interest of their client when compared to the impact that policy has on the broader electorate. In response, attempts have been made by Congress to limit their power and the tools lobbyists have to influence government officials. [9]

There are 11,265 lobbyists registered in Washington D.C. whose sole job is to influence the votes of the elected representatives of American voters. [10] This equates to 21 lobbyists for each Congressional representative, demonstrating how pervasive the lobbying industry has become in the nation’s capital and power center for American politics. While the mere presence of large numbers of lobbyists is not powerful, the imbalance of power when it comes to elections or information is the center of their toolkits of influence.

There are laws that limit activities of lobbyists such as the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA), which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton to increase the transparency of governing and work to protect the rights of “ordinary” Americans when it came to having their interests represented by their government. [11] Introduced as an inducement to make companies and powerful interest groups re-evaluate their involvement in policy, it, instead, turned lobbying into an industry with high costs of entry through extensive filings and stringent regulations with harsh penalties. [12] The LDA warrants the registration of persons regularly engaged in lobbying government officials and requires quarterly reports from registered lobbyists detailing who they gave money to, who funded their activities, as well as other conflicts of interest that may arise after a former government worker becomes a lobbyist. [13] This law also details what type of gifts may be legally given to Congressional representatives or their staff to avoid undue influence on the outcomes of governing. The law, while a good starting point for legislating the effect special interest groups can have on those charged with representing the electorate, creates ‘shadow’ lobbyists who engage in the same activities as their registered counterparts, but due to not meeting the threshold for registering, are effectively operating in the shadows. While the rules limiting the types of inducements allowed may still apply to these ‘shadow lobbyists’, they are not required to submit quarterly reports, making enforcement action against those who transgress the law almost impossible. [14]

Lobbyists are not only influential due to their generous donations to political campaigns, but they also serve as the main source of Congressional education about new issues facing the nation. By way of illustration, a marijuana legalization lobbyist who wants a senator to vote for a bill that would legalize the sale and consumption of marijuana by amending the Controlled Substances Act of 1971, which placed marijuana as a schedule I substance. [15] This is the situation of Neal Levine, a marijuana legalization lobbyist employed by the Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF) to represent the interest of the cannabis industry in Washington D.C. [16] This proposed law would stand to take the authority away from federal law enforcement agencies for the prosecution of marijuana-related crimes. Levine discusses some of the things he will present to government officials during meetings. He might show the official studies that depict the drug as being a harmless substance that can actually have health benefits, such as controlling nausea or anxiety. He might present CTF funded studies showing that decriminalizing the drug would help stop the growing federal prison population, which would help slow the exponential growth of prison budgets within the share of the total federal budget. Finally, Levine might appeal to the humanity of the official by showing how the law has torn apart families just for engaging in a few hours of harmless euphoria and calm. Should these arguments fail to work, Levine still has the final enticement, which is to ask the senator to support the bill in return for campaign donations. Of course, laws prohibit him from directly saying that due to its status as a quid pro quo (this for that) transaction, but he might suggest that money might flow to their opponent in the next election should the senator not support the bill. This is the job lobbyists are sent to congress to perform; talking to representatives and trying to get them to vote how their clients want them to. The senator is faced with a problem: does he support the bill and secure some campaign donations to help him continue to work in Congress, or does he vote his conscience even if that means voting against the bill? The story of Levine is not uncommon. Lobbyists spend their days (or are hired by interest groups) at Capitol Hill trying to convince/sway the opinions and votes of representatives, without the knowledge of voters.

This is the control that lobbyists have over the legislators in Congress, and it is evident in every piece of legislation that gets passed. Term limits would take the final enticement of the lobbyists, which arguably is the most offensive to public policy and least “ethical” of the bunch. They would allow members to be educated by the lobbyist without worrying about how money might flow as a result of their vote. If Congressional representatives do not have to stress over keeping their seats for life in two-year or six-year blocks, then they can focus on voting their conscience.

Instituting term limits in Congress would not remove all the power from lobbyists, but it would effectively reduce some of the more unpalatable sides to Congressional lobbying by limiting its carrot-and-stick style influence on Congressional decisions.


Bryan Woolston, Reuters

The United States chooses its leaders on all American political subdivisions using elections, meaning that the electorate must be actively involved and educated for the system to work as it was truly intended. Without voters using their constitutionally protected right to have their opinion registered at the polls, it becomes much less likely that there would be a harmonious representation in those elected to advocate for their interests. Rather, an election in which a portion of the voting population does not vote becomes skewed towards overrepresented groups who did exercise their right to vote. The disconnect between eligible voting groups and the voting electorate leads to dissatisfaction with the election winners, which further contributes to political division and distrust of the political leaders by those who did not vote.

This system of electing representatives was intended to give citizens a direct choice in how they wanted their government to behave and the policies they wanted to see enacted by them but also blunted some of the short-term thinking that characterizes the populist mob mentality. [17] Instead of allowing citizens to vote directly on the issues, the founding fathers created a system in which the electorate votes on representatives to decide those issues for us, which, according to Dr. Bernard Bobski, avoids dramatic and short-sighted decisions by the electorate. [18] While this system of attempting to seek compromise and not make dramatic changes to government policy without weighing the risks and benefits does not always work, it has been hailed as the form of government least subject to swift policy swings. [19] There may be times when swift action is required such as a pandemic or financial crisis, but the slow steady march of representative democracy speeds up for none.

Presidential elections receive the most attention from voters due to their nationwide scope, the novelty of the candidates running, and the media attention their campaigns receive. From 2000 to 2016, turnout has been on average 41.5 percent, with 2016 being the highest of the 21st century thus far. [20] The rates of voter turnout are even worse for midterm elections, rarely reaching forty percent. [21] This low turnout only serves to increase the growing sentiment of voters that their government is not representative of them and does not look out for their interests.

In contrast, the United States has weak voter turnout when stacked up against other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations. Turkey, for example, has the highest turnout rate among OECD nations clocking in at 89 percent with Sweden close behind at 82 percent. [22] Some of these differences among nations’ turnout rates can be attributed to compulsory voting laws, though the maximum penalty of spending time in jail is seldom used, it serves as a reminder to the electorate that it is their duty to vote. These laws have shown to be effective in increasing voter turnout by 18 percent, remarkably higher than it would be without the legal and financial incentive. [23]

Low turnout rates, especially for midterm elections which include local and Congressional elections, make it easier for incumbents to be reelected, simply by name recognition or lack of voter participation. However, without the necessary research and education of voters on how that candidate aligns with their interests, it is a blind vote.

If a Congressional representative was term-limited, voters would not be able to rely on the name recognition power of an incumbent to decide who to vote for. Instead, voters are left with a few options to help them decide how to vote such as party affiliation or research into the candidates’ stances on issues the voter cares about.

Therefore, in order to maintain better engaged citizens, there needs to be a maximum term for any single legislator, limiting the amount of power they can wield and opening the seat up for more constituents to have a chance to make decisions.



Congress, which is located in a district of its own, is often segregated from those that they are charged with representing. Because of this, Congress is often out of touch with the concerns of their constituents. The distance between the two groups grows exponentially as Congressional representatives remain in Washington, leading them to pass laws that might make sense to career politicians, but not to the people. Tom Morgan, a journalist covering the relationship between small businesses and government regulations, brings this disconnect to light when it comes to the Dodd-Frank Act, which placed significant regulations on banks. [24] Some of the regulations encased in this nearly twenty-two thousand-page bill dictates a much-increased level of prudence banks must have when granting loans, which, in effect, takes decisions away from community banks who know business owners in their areas, and gives it to the federal government. These regulations might be reasonable for large banks that may be less risk-averse due to their public ownership, but the regulations disproportionately affected small business owners and would-be owners when they went to secure funding from their local banks. [25]

Some politicians who leave the office and move on to the private sector feel this disconnect in a way that is unique to those who had once been the ones making the rules of the game. George McGovern, former Democratic Congressmen in both houses from South Dakota, and 1992 presidential nominee writes about his experience in the private sector after governing:

In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business, especially during a recession… I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender. [26]

McGovern gets to the heart of what it means to be disconnected from the consequences of your decisions, and, more importantly, the constituents in your districts.

Term limits would likely increase the knowledge base and experiences of those elected to Congress, who might better understand what the effects of newly passed laws can have on the ordinary Americans who are subject to them. When costs are distributed by employees, the economic, environmental, tax, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and hiring regulations cost smaller firms, on average, 28.57 percent more per employee in 2010 than large companies due to economies of scale and outsourcing. [27] Economies of scale with regard to compliance refers to the increased efficiency that companies achieve by doing a repetitive task, and find cheaper or quicker ways of complying often through investments in software or outsourcing the compliance work entirely. Regulations have increased substantially since 2010 with tax compliance and ever-evolving hiring regulations; the cost is now higher than ever. These investments are often financially out of reach for smaller organizations, leaving them to absorb unreasonably high costs just to comply with new regulations. These costs have the ability to turn a small profitable organization into an unprofitable one, leaving them vulnerable to the regulations path, a trail of bankruptcies, and failed ventures.

Representation in Congress should reflect the make-up of the constituencies that those representatives are sworn to represent. However, this is not possible if elected officials never depart from their positions, since that leaves representation in Congress stagnant. The one-way door into Washington D.C. contributes to the obvious disconnect between the average American and their representatives in Congress.


Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial in the Senate (1868). Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

As with the old phrase, “possession is nine-tenths of the law”, incumbency offers many benefits in helping the candidate get reelected to their seat that their challengers do not have access to. [28] is an organization that uses data to present pictures of what is happening in politics, with a particular focus on identifying patterns whose cause is less than kosher. One of their focuses is trying to understand how money affects politics, and specifically reelection rates. The organization has data on reelection rates for the house of representatives and senate going all the way back to 1964. The first rather unsurprising observation made about the data is that since 1964, Congressional reelection rates have been rising. [29]

In 1964, the first year of data, 87 percent of the House was reelected and 85 percent of the Senators in a race were reelected. Over the following 54 years, the lowest House reelection rate ever was 85 percent in 1970 and the lowest Senate rate was 55 percent in 1980. The average reelection rate for the trailing 54 years 93 percent for the House and 82 percent for the Senate. The data suggests that once a candidate wins Congressional election, they rarely lose reelection or leave their seat voluntarily, signaling that getting into Congress is a one-way ticket to Washington D.C. and a career in government.

Being in office comes with a host of benefits for campaigns, but the greatest has to be the name recognition that comes with already having won the office once and governing in the previous term. Those elected to Congress receive more media attention than their challengers in elections, and the attention given to incumbents tends to be more positive. [30] The quantity of positive news stories about incumbents, and the smaller amount of news coverage for the challenger makes getting name recognition easier for incumbents when compared to their challengers. This is because an incumbent can garner positive coverage in connection with their official capacity, such as announcing a new bill or fighting for their districts in the hearings. Challengers cannot grandstand during a hearing or announce a new bill, so their coverage is limited to campaign events or releases, which are not perceived the same by the voters. [31]

Being in office also gives potential donors a political history that they can examine to see how well you governed, and how future choices might affect them. Donors are the essential to being able to run campaigns with expensive ads and thousands of lawn signs to reinforce the name recognition that the incumbent already has.

Logroll and pork-barrel politics, in which a Congressional representative advocates for programs or funding that would directly benefit the constituents that voted them into office, contribute to the inefficiency of Congress by helping the representative secure their success in the next election. While challengers often do not have the ability to fund a new hospital or renovate all of a district’s schools, incumbents who are seeking an effortless way to ensure positive recognition will use their funding for such projects to sway certain communities in their favor. In state-level elections, the size of the budget of the state has a positive correlation with the size of the advantage that an incumbent is conferred by the voters, confirming the theory that log roll and pork-barrel politics benefits incumbents. [32]

Another benefit is the redistricting that occurs every ten years. Legislators redraw the lines of election districts and, in doing so, can work to dilute the concentration of unfavorable groups to that party’s election chances. This allows legislators to turn districts into “safe” elections for one party. [33] When representatives serve for a prolonged period of time, they establish a strong party base in their areas. For instance, Alaska Rep. Don Young has served since 1973. [34] As a Republican, Young has served twenty-three terms in Congress. [35] His success can be attributed to his base of Republicans who have rallied behind him and his political party. Because of his long tenure in Congress, Alaska is considered a “safe” Republican state. Because of the support of his political party, Young has achieved an extensive tenure in Congress.

When running in an election, candidates, especially the incumbents, heavily rely on the support of their political parties. Incumbents have an advantage, as they have a track record of promoting policies that their political party agrees with. Political parties are the lifeblood of campaigns, as they have vast resources, funding, and staff members. [36] If a political party endorses a candidate, the candidate can receive monetary funds, potential donor information, and an increase in staff. [37] For voters, the power of a political party can influence their voting decision. In a study conducted at the London School of Economics, researchers found that voters are more likely to support candidates endorsed by a political party. “When political parties take stands on policies and endorse candidates, they provide short-cuts to help us make sense of politics. People seem quite eager to follow their party’s leadership and our willingness to follow our party can, at times, make us look foolish.” [38] Voters trust the decisions of the political parties to endorse candidates that embody similar views and stances. Because of this, voters are more likely to vote for the endorsed candidate, which tends to be the incumbent because of the relationship between the representative and the political party.

With all of these benefits, it should come as no surprise that incumbents get reelected at high rates in every jurisdiction across the United States. [39] Some have suggested these increasing reelection rates can be attributed to the process of redistricting, by which the party which controls the state legislator can redraw Congressional district lines every ten years coinciding with the decennial census, as required by the constitution. [40] While the processes of moving Congressional district lines was intended to account for population shifts among the states and within states, it has often been used to dilute votes of the opposite party than that of the state legislator, which can turn districts which may have been competitive into safe districts. [41] This process is called gerrymandering, and it contributes to the growing incumbency advantage.

The effects of gerrymandering are multiplied in ‘low turnout’ areas, where small groups of politically motivated voters continually reelect incumbents. [42] This phenomenon is mostly limited to state legislators and municipal races in midterm elections, which receive less media attention and may be missed by voters due to its perceived lack of importance. [43] In small electorate pools, there are groups of people who have special interests in seeing the incumbent re-elected, such as municipal employees or businesses who have large contracts with the government. These specially interested groups can be overrepresented in the voting electorate, potentially having outsized effects on the outcome when compared to their effect in a high-turnout district. [44]

Scholars have looked at the frequency of elections by which the percentage outcome has a more than ten percent difference in votes between the winning candidate and the 'first loser.' [45] The ten percent gap is used as a measure of an election’s competitiveness. Using this as a benchmark for which districts have the most uncompetitive elections between 2006 and 2012, results show that 11 percent of Americans had seen no competitive races in that period, and over 35 percent of adults only had seen one competitive race in that time – excluding 2008 and 2012 presidential election. [46] There are 9 states that are thought to have some of the most uncompetitive states, based on the amount of two-year election cycles without a single competitive election; Georgia, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and Tennessee. Of the group, Texas had the smallest run of 11 cycles and Georgia had the longest run of 13 cycles. [47] Based on the data, incumbency and safe districts are connected, and without reform, voters may grow apathetic toward future elections.

There are studies of incumbent reelection rates from state and federal elections dating from the mid-1900s to 2000. These studies show that from 1942 to1950, a senatorial incumbent would expect a 0.21 to 1.17 percent increase in votes, only due to their status as an incumbent. [48] The small advantage conferred to incumbents at this time can be attributed to post-WWII changes in political sentiment, where specific groups were heavily campaigning to change the status quo. One of the most vocal groups were groups pushing the civil rights movement forward and removing some of the systemic racism built into America. These groups worked hard to push equality both in Washington and in elections, and, as a result, some of the older or more conservative senators were unseated, contributing to a relatively low incumbent advantage. This era saw newly elected representatives sent to congress who came armed with new ideas. They brought ideas that changed the world.

Later in American history when politics had reached a sort of equilibrium of progress and conservatism, the advantage grew twelve-fold to a 8.31to 9.61 percent of the vote, solely due to their incumbent status. [49] It is important to note that reflection is not an advantage conferred to incumbents, but the advantage an incumbent gets just for being on the ballot a second time. The office offers many other advantages such as using their Congressional platform to position themselves for reelection or taking part in other races – such a presidential or gubernatorial – which the advantage does not account for. In short, the advantage measures what portion of the electorate relies on a previous election victory as evidence the candidate is worthy of reelection.

The increase in polarization of partisan politics contributed to the reelection trends, due to the villainization of the ‘other side’ in politics, where voters reelected their representatives to fight the ‘other side’. Americans began and continue to this day to advocate for their side to win, and send fighters to Congress when historically voters preferred mild-tempered representatives who would be willing to compromise to act in the best interest of the union, not political parties.

These trends of sending incumbents back to Congress time after time shows no signs of changing in the near future, which is thought to be related to the continuously more divisive state of American politics where beating the ‘other side’ becomes more important than working for the betterment of society. [50] Without major changes in the status of politics, advantages conferred to incumbents will continue to rise.

These advantages are more significant for gubernatorial and other high state-level offices. [51] It is thought that the reason for such high reelection rates in state office is the sentiment that most of the important governing takes place on the federal level, which gives voters low motivation to research how a candidate performed during the last term in office, and adopt a mindset mirroring ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ where they reelect the incumbent. The inability to list costly failures of a politician become the heaviest weighting factor in the reelection of state-level incumbents, not whether the candidate affected the voters’ life in a meaningful way.

Taking away the advantage of the incumbent will require new candidates to run for previously unwinnable seats, changing the faces and experiences of who makes the decisions for the country.


Win McNamee, Getty Images

Term limits, as with most new political ideas, there are arguments against their implementation. One of the most popular arguments against term limits is that it takes away the right that voters have to vote for the candidate they want. On a practical level, some voters will want to vote for the incumbent even after they are term-limited; however, it is important to remember that we already have restrictions on who you can vote for, so this is not a wildly new idea. [52] Term limiting Congress is no different than term limiting the president, for, without a meaningful change in who holds both offices, there can be no real change in the direction of our country.

Another argument is the idea that term limits would increase the newly elected Congress’s reliance on their staff and lobbyists for information on how to make decisions. [53] This argument has some merit, but staff are not permanent fixtures. They are typically replaced when a Congressperson takes office with people who ran their campaign. Lobbyists depend on relationships to get their job done, and without the long-standing connections between the elected official and the lobbyist, the lobbyist’s influence is limited.

On-the-job learning experience has been thought to lead to better job performance which would seem to point to the idea that Congress should be allowed to remain in their seats for long periods of time to take advantage of this growth. Thus term limits would stop the growing process and prohibit those who are governing to develop the skills for graceful governance. Opponents of term limits claim that enabling legislators to be in their jobs longer allows them to better understand their position and work better for the voters. [54] This might be true, but it is a price that we should be willing to pay for more representative elected government officials. Letting representatives turn elected political offices into high paying, long term careers under the guise of gaining expertise goes against the very foundation of our country.

Finally, opponents claim that because term limits for Congress are not spelled out in the constitution, they should not even be considered as they clearly go against the intent of the founding fathers. [55] America must remember that our country was formed in a time when people would serve one or two terms in Congress, and return to private life, not turning their time in government into a career. This is no longer the case, with above eighty percent reelection rates among Congress, Americans need to return to the idea that holding a seat in Congress is a temporary position or holding rather than a life-long career. [56]


Carlos Jasso, Reuters

Ultimately, the only method to institute term limits would be to create a constitutional amendment prescribing the limits on the House and the Senate. [57] Alternatively, the two political parties could refuse to fund longtime elected officials for reelection, essentially hamstringing their campaign and allowing a challenger a fair chance at winning. [58]

If term limits were instituted in Congress, allowing the house three terms and the senate two terms, 73 percent of the house and 32 percent of senators would be out of a job. Almost three-quarters of the house seats would be filled with new representatives, which would likely have a more diverse composition than the current house.

Term limits make it clear that being elected to government office is serving your country in a unique way, and not a lifetime career path. [59] Democratic republics fundamentally rely on citizens with new ideas about how to get things done efficiently bringing those ideas to the electorate and winning elections, allowing them to come into the governing picture and make changes. Currently, the United States has a de facto political ruling class of wealthy Americans that create dynasties in their districts, leading to huge gaps between the life experience of those making the laws and those being subject to them.

In states where there have been ballot measures to institute term limits for state offices, the largest opponent donors were large corporations who wanted to make sure that their investment in lobbying would not be lost every six to ten years. [60] A GALLUP poll in 2013 found that 75 percent of adults supported term limits, and also found that it was not a partisan issue, with every major political party showing more than 65 percent support for term limits. [61] This reinforced the idea that term limits would make the corporate influence of legislators through their lobbyists much weaker and more expensive for the companies. This also explains why the companies worked so hard to halt the ballot measures threatening their legislative influence even though there is such broad public bipartisan support for them.

Opening up seats for new candidates to run will help get diverse talent in the race to replace the retiring Congressmen. Some scholars believe that term limits could be one of the best, unutilized tools to encourage diversity in elected offices. Studies tell us that when groups are more diverse, they tend to be more creative with how they analyze and approach problems, which ultimately leads to the creation of better solutions. [62]


Gridlock continues to plague congress disputes frequent and regular elections. Incumbents win reelection at startlingly high rates, negating the election changes to elected officials. Lobbyists wield unseeming power due to their relationships with current elected officials, and turnover would make it hard for lobbyists to get the same level of power. The voting electorate has become disconnected from the electoral process due to uncompetitive elections.

It is high time America take a look at the stark contrast between the average American and the average Congressmen, and evaluate our options to bring the two closer. [63] A constitutional amendment setting term limits for Congress is the best solution to help reduce Congressional gridlock, loosen the grip of lobbyists, and increase voter attention to elections. Term limits are beneficial for America and also for democratic republics because without them the status quo which is not working for most Americans will remain unchallenged.


[1] “The Capitol's Age Pyramid: A Graying Congress,” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 14 Oct. 2010,

[2] U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995)

[3] “Three-Fifths Compromise.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., July 2, 2020.

[4] Sarah A. Binder, “Going Nowhere: A Gridlocked Congress,” Brookings (Brookings, July 28, 2016),;

[5] Quorum, “Enacted Bills with Bipartisan Support at 20-Year High,” Quorum (Quorum, June 22, 2020),

[6] DeSilver, Drew. “A Productivity Scorecard for the 115th Congress: More Laws than before, but Not More Substance.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 30 May 2020,

[7] GovTrack. “Statistics and Historical Comparison.”,

[8] Deakin, James. The Lobbyists. Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs Press, 1966.

[9] Eisenkopf, Gerald. "Partisan Lobbyists in Conflicts." European Journal of Political Economy 60 (2019): 101811.

[10] OpenSecrets. “Lobbying Data Summary.” OpenSecrets, 2020,

[11] “The Lobbying Disclosure Act at 20: Analysis and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service (US GOVERNMENT , December 1, 2015),

[12] “The Lobbying Disclosure Act at 20: Analysis and Issues for Congress.”

[13] Title 2 United States Code Chapter 26 Section 1601

[14] “The Lobbying Disclosure Act at 20”, Congressional Research Service

[15] Title 21 United States Code, Chapter 13, Section 801

[16] Caitlyn Kim, “The Cannabis Lobbyists That Swarm DC Are Another Sign Of Legal Marijuana's Business Muscle,” HPPR: The News (High Plains Public Radio, October 28, 2019),

[17] Bernard Dobski, Ph.D. “America Is a Republic, Not a Democracy.” The Heritage Foundation, American Founders, 19 June 2020,

[18] Ibid.

[19] K Wiesner et al, “ Stability of Democracies: a Complex Systems Perspective,” Stability of democracies: a complex systems perspective (European Journal of Physics, November 27, 2018),

[20] United States Election Project. “Presidential Election Turnout Data.” United States Elections Project, 2016,

[21] MIT DATA + SCIENCE LAB. “Voter Turnout.” Voter Turnout | MIT Election Lab, 2020,

[22] DeSilver, Drew. “In Past Elections, U.S. Trailed Most Developed Countries in Voter Turnout.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 5 Nov. 2020,

[23] Jaitman, Laura. “The Causal Effect of Compulsory Voting Laws on Turnout: Does Skill Matter?” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2012, doi:10.2139/ssrn.2057055.

[24] Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010

[25] Morgan, Tom. 2017. It's time for term limits in Congress. The Business Journal - Central New York 31, (2) (Jan 16): (accessed November 3, 2020).

[26] George McGovern, “George McGovern in the Journal,” The Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones & Company, October 21, 2012),

[27] Crain, Nicole V., and W. Mark Crain. “The Impact of Regulatory Costs on Small Firms.” Small Business Association: Office of Advocacy, Small Business Association, Sept. 2010,

[28] Weeks, Linton. “Why It's Good To Be The Incumbent.” It's All Politics, NPR, 11 June 2012,

[29] See figure 2, ( Center for Responsive Politics)

[30] Kahn, Kim Fridkin. "Incumbency and the News Media in U. S. Senate Elections: An Experimental Investigation." Political Research Quarterly 46, no. 4 (1993): 715-40.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Harino & Snyder, 2008

[33] Ansolabehere, Stephen, and James M. Snyder. “The Incumbency Advantage in U.S. Elections: An Analysis of State and Federal Offices, 1942–2000.” Election Law Journal: Rules, Politics, and Policy, vol. 1, no. 3, 2002, pp. 315–338., doi:10.1089/153312902760137578.

[34] “Biography: Congressman Don Young,” Dong Young Congressman for all Alaska, accessed December 27, 2020,

[35] Ibid.

[36] “The Role of Political Party Finance Reform in the Transition from Dominant to Competitive Party Systems,” U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, accessed December 27, 2020,

[37] Ibid.

[38] “Political Parties Shape Public Opinion, but Their Influence Is Limited.,” USAPP, April 26, 2017,

[39] Trounstine, Jessica. “Turnout and Incumbency in Local Elections.” Urban Affairs Review, vol. 49, no. 2, 2012, pp. 167–189., doi:10.1177/1078087412463536.

[40] Abramowitz, Alan I., Brad Alexander, and Matthew Gunning. “Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House Elections.” The Journal of Politics 68, no. 1 (2006): 75–88.

[41] Kury, Franklin L.. 2018. Gerrymandering : A Guide to Congressional Redistricting, Dark Money, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Blue Ridge Summit: Hamilton Books. Accessed December 30, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.

[42] Trounstine, Jessica. “Turnout and Incumbency in Local Elections.”

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Fraga, Bernard L., and Eitan D. Hersh. “Are Americans Stuck in Uncompetitive Enclaves? An Appraisal of U.S. Electoral Competition.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 13, no. 3 (2018): 291–311.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ansolabehere, Stephen, and James M. Snyder. “The Incumbency Advantage in U.S. Elections”

[49] Ibid.

[50] Greenberg, Dan. “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean Up Congress.” The Heritage Foundation, 10 Aug. 1994,

[51] “The Incumbency Advantage in U.S. Elections”; See Figure 1 for graph of incumbent advantages 1942-2000, (Ansolabehere & Snyder 2001)

[52] “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean Up Congress.”

[53] Greenberg, Dan. “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean Up Congress.”

[54] Kurtz, Karl T., Bruce E. Cain, and Richard G. Niemi. Institutional Change in American Politics: the Case of Term Limits. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2007.

[55] Ibid.

[56] OpenSecrets. “reelection Rates Over the Years.” OpenSecrets, 2020,

[57] Bandow, Doug. “How to Term-Limit Congress.” Cato Institute, National Review (Online), 30 Jan. 2019,

[58] Ibid.

[59] Boaz, David. “The Case for Term Limits: Shock and Surprise When an Incumbent Actually Retires.” Cato At Liberty. Cato Institute, April 10, 2017.

[60] Greenberg, Dan. “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean Up Congress.”

[61] Saad, Lydia. “Americans Call for Term Limits, End to the Electoral College.”, Gallup, 6 Jan. 2020,

[62] Carroll, Susan J., and Krista Jenkins. “Unrealized Opportunity? Term Limits and the Representation of Women in State Legislatures.” Women & Politics 23, no. 4 (2001): 1–30.

[63] Bandow, Doug. “How to Term-Limit Congress.”

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