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A Return to Normalcy? Revisiting the Effects of Term Limits on Competitiveness and Spending in California Assembly Elections

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Seth E. Masket
Affiliation:
University of Denver
Jeffrey B. Lewis
Affiliation:
University of California, Los Angeles

Abstract

Term limits advocates argued that their reform would make state legislative campaigns more competitive and less expensive, and limited early studies suggested that it may have achieved those goals. But now, with evidence from more than a decade of experience with reform, we re-examine the effects of terms limits on electoral competitiveness and campaign spending in California Assembly elections. We find that while term limits initially suppressed campaign spending, they did not check its growth for long. Today, California's state legislative elections are as expensive in real dollars as they have ever been. In terms of electoral competitiveness, state legislative incumbents are in no more danger of losing their seats today than they were in the pre-term limits days of the late 1980s. Furthermore, open-seat races are not any more competitive under term limits than before them; however, we do find a modest, but significant, decline in incumbents' average winning margin since the imposition of term limits. But since term limits have made fewer incumbents eligible to run for office, this incumbency advantage helps fewer people than it once did. Yet, for the most part, rather than being supplanted by citizen-legislators, career politicians have simply adapted to the constraints imposed by term limits.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © 2007 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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