Term Limits and Their Consequences

The Aftermath of Legislative Reform

By Stanley M. Caress & Todd T. Kunioka

Subjects: Political Science, Politics
Paperback : 9781438443041, 205 pages, July 2013
Hardcover : 9781438443058, 205 pages, September 2012

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Table of contents

List of Tables
1. Introduction
Why Study Term Limits?
How Term Limits Have Been Studied
The Early Debate
Early Scholarship
Methodological Weaknesses of Early Pre-Implementation Studies
Methods Used in Later Studies
This Book
2. Movement to Establish Term Limits
Difference between Mass Political Movements and Grassroots Democracy Movements
Essential Elements of Grassroots Democracy Movements
The Success of the Movement
Historical Stages of the Term Limit Movement
3. Why Were Term Limits So Popular
The American Tradition of Political Reform
Normative Perspectives of Support for Term Limits
Research on Why Voters Prefer Term Limits and Still Vote for Their Incumbent
Motivational Categories of Why Voters Prefer Term Limits
The optimistic Politics of Changing Rules
4. Impact of the Election of Women
Predicted Impact on the Election of Women to State Legislatures
Current Evidence form the States
The Potential Anticipatory Influence of Term Limits
Additional Evidence: Comparing Congress with State Legislatures
Case Study: California, the First State to Feel the Impact of Term Limits
Implications of the California Experience: Why Didn’t Term Limits Matter
Other Factors Influence the Election of Women More Than Term Limits
5. Impact of the Election of the Minority Candidates
Research on Minorities and Term Limits
National Trends in the Election of Black and Hispanic Candidates to States Legislatures
Evidence from the California State Assembly, Michigan State house, Georgia House of Representatives, and Pennsylvania State House
Summarizing the Case Study States: Term Limits, Redistricting, and State Demographics
6. Consequences of Term Limit Enactment on Career Paths
Ambition Theory
Impact of Term Limits on Motivation
Career Paths for California’s Term Limited Legislators: Other Impacts on Legislative Careers
Contrasting Career Paths
Michigan v. California
7. Changes in Legislative Leadership
Consequences of Eliminating Entrenched Legislative Leaders
Pre-Term Limit California Speaker Pattern
Post-Term Limit Speakership Transition Pattern
California Senate Pattern
Unseating the Leader Even Without Term Limits
Minorities in Leadership Positions
Women Obtaining Leadership Positions
Unanticipated Consequences
Weakened Leadership in Other Term-Limited States
8. Insider’s Views of Term Limits
Why Interviews are Important
Views of Experience of a Former State Legislator
The Different Experience of a Post-Term Limits Legislator
Views of Two Legislative Staffers
Views of a Former Insider
What These Interviews Suggest
9. The Future of Term Limits in the States and on Congress
Term Limits and Future Turnover rates
Term Limits in the States
Expansion, Contraction, or the Status Quo?
Future Consequences
Term Limits and Congress
10. Conclusion
The Future of Term Limits
Final Thoughts

Comprehensive examination of legislative term limits and how they have changed the American political system.


Legislative term limits remain a controversial feature of the American political landscape. Term Limits and Their Consequences provides a clear, comprehensive, and nonpartisan look at all aspects of this contentious subject. Stanley M. Caress and Todd T. Kunioka trace the emergence of the grassroots movement that supported term limits and explain why the idea of term limits became popular with voters. At the same time, they put term limits into a broader historical context, illustrating how they are one of many examples of the public's desire to reform government. Utilizing an impressive blend of quantitative data and interviews, Caress and Kunioka thoughtfully discuss the impact of term limits, focusing in particular on the nation's largest state, California. They scrutinize voting data to determine if term limits have altered election outcomes or the electoral chances of women and minority candidates, and reveal how restricting a legislator's time in office has changed political careers and ambitions. Designed to transform American politics, term limits did indeed bring change, but in ways ranging far beyond those anticipated by both their advocates and detractors.

Stanley M. Caress is Professor of Political Science at the University of West Georgia and the author of Dynamics of American Politics. Todd T. Kunioka is a statistical analyst for Los Angeles County and teaches Political Science at Cerritos College in California.


"After moving through its clear prose and straightforward tables, the reader will emerge with firm sense of the impact of term limits on who serves in statehouses, how their careers unfold, and patterns in the tenure of leaders … Caress and Kunioka's work will become a standard reference on these weighty matters." — American Review of Politics

"Caress and Kunioka have written a very timely and comprehensive study regarding the impact that term limits have had on state legislatures … The authors have provided an excellent contribution by covering every angle thoroughly … in a way that is easily understood … Highly recommended." — CHOICE

"While prior studies were based on limited or no data, this book examines states with lengthy term limits experience. More of this type of work is needed to capture the consequences of term limits." — Rick Farmer, Assistant Commissioner, Oklahoma Insurance Department