Term Limits as a Response to Incumbency Advantage


Kong-Pin Chen (kongpin@gate.sinica.edu.tw) is professor of economics, National Taiwan University, Taipei 10002, Taiwan, and Research Fellow, Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica, Taipei 11529, Taiwan. Emerson M. S. Niou (niou@duke.edu) is professor of political science, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0204, and professor of government and public administration, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong.


In this paper we develop a spatial model to provide an explanation for the seeming paradox that voters in some states reelect incumbents while unilaterally self-imposing legislative term limits. The model shows that voters are more likely to support term limits if the incumbent's position is farther from the median voter position or if the incumbent's party is more moderate. Furthermore, it suggests that term limits, or the threat of term limits, increases the responsiveness of politicians’ policy platforms.