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Unexpected consequences? Bicameral policymaking shifts through term limits

Christopher Olds (Based at the Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 18 October 2011




The imposition of term limits in bicameral (two‐chamber) state legislatures could produce unforeseen consequences in the policymaking process. Supporters of term limit rules have not considered that their imposition could fundamentally shift the sequence of policymaking in legislatures. This is important given that research on sequential bicameral policymaking suggests qualities of the lower chamber allow it to cultivate policy expertise such that the upper chamber will defer to the lower chamber in policymaking. This project aims to explore whether this proposed policymaking sequence exists in term‐limited states.


A comparison of policy adoptions in states with and without term limits is performed using an original data set on bill adoptions for all US bicameral legislatures that had a regular session between the years 2000 and 2006. Least‐squares regression models evaluate whether basic characteristics of legislatures are as relevant as term limit characteristics in explaining the level of outputs from the lower chamber in term‐limited states.


In states with term limits, the level of policy adoptions initiated by the lower chamber is lower than levels seen in states without term limits. This finding holds when controlling for other relevant variables that can potentially explain lower chamber productivity.

Research limitations/implications

The study analyzes aggregate state‐level data and does not interview individual legislators in states with and without term limits on whether term limits can alter future legislative behavior.


This study is the first to examine whether the policymaking sequence differs between states that possess and do not possess term limit rules.



Olds, C. (2011), "Unexpected consequences? Bicameral policymaking shifts through term limits", Foresight, Vol. 13 No. 6, pp. 48-69.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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