Briefing Paper No. 14

Why Political Scientists Oppose Term Limits

By Mark P. Petracca
February 18, 1992

Executive Summary

Six considerations may explain political scientists’ open hostility to term limitation: Political scientists were instrumental in promoting the professionalization of legislators. The revisionist approach to democratic theory continues to influence the way most of them view democracy. They are cynical about the attentiveness, general knowledge, and judgmental capacity of the average voter. They are committed to the conservation of leadership. They perceive attacks on professional politicians as a threat to their own self-proclaimed professionalism. And political partisanship may encourage them to oppose term limits.

Political scientists should lend their expertise and skills to the public debate about the wisdom of term limitation. They should bring to that debate the commitment to data collection, vigorous analysis, and well-crafted arguments that is characteristic of a systematic and scholarly approach to political inquiry.

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Mark P. Petracca is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California at Irvine and editor of The Politics of Interests.