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CEP discussion paper
Term Limits and Electoral Accountability
Michael Smart and Daniel M. Sturm
December 2006
Paper No' CEPDP0770:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: D72; H11

Tags: political agency; accountability; term limits

Periodic elections are the main instrument through which voters can hold politicians accountable. From this perspective term limits, which restrict voters’ ability to reward politicians with re-election, appear counterproductive. We show that despite the disciplining effect of elections, term limits can be ex ante welfare improving from the perspective of voters. By reducing the value of holding office term limits can induce politicians to implement policies that are closer to their private preferences. Such “truthful” behavior by incumbents in turn results in better screening of incumbents. We show that the combination of these two effects can strictly increase the utility of voters.