Most Americans understand that politicians really like being politicians. Elected officials enjoy generous salaries, lots of vacation time and, of course, political power. For these reasons, among others, politicians are unlikely to voluntarily leave the cushy jobs they have. Once elected, most politicians also benefit from name recognition and increased fundraising prowess. These advantages result in high re-election rates for incumbents. Recent scholarship by Doug Bandow and Karl Kurtz shows that in the 1960s and 1970s, the average state legislature only experienced a turnover of one-third of its members every two years. During the 1980s, turnover declined considerably, and by 1988, average turnover had fallen to only 16 percent of state legislators. Overall, during the 1980s, 99.3 percent of unindicted Congressional and state legislative incumbents won re-election. High re-election rates for incumbents continue to this day and create something resembling a ruling class. Because of high incumbent re-election rates and voters’ perception that lawmakers have become too powerful, term limits have re-emerged as a salient issue in today’s public policy debates.
By MacMillin Slobodien | Executive Director of Our Generation