After Re-Electing A Bunch Of Incumbents, Americans Demand Term Limits


There is nothing that baffles me more than the term limits issue.

On one hand, term limits are a pretty popular concept among Americans. Proposals to end term limits for the President are routinely panned. Voters talk about term limits endlessly, suggesting that “fresh blood” in Washington from time to time is a good thing. A recent Gallup poll found overwhelming support for the concept among all political affiliations:


But here’s the thing: If Americans really want term limits, why do we spend so much time voting for incumbents?

The 2012 election was a “status quo” election. We re-elected the president, and only 10 seats in Congress (8 in the House, 2 in the Senate) changed partisan hands. In the 2010 elections, widely seen as a “wave election” bringing great change to Washington DC, just 6 of 33 Senate seats that were up for re-election changed partisan hands. In the House, just 63 seats out of 435 changed hands.

That at a time when national approval numbers for Congress were routinely measured in the single-digits.

“In other words, the message here is: Stop me before I vote for another incumbent!” writes Ed Morrissey. That’s exactly right.

The problem here is that Americans are, politically, schizophrenic. We say we want one thing, yet we do another.

Nor is this the only place where American voters are decidedly hypocritical. For instance, we say we want to reduce the national debt, yet we’re unwilling to see cuts in spending that benefits our local communities or ourselves as individuals. We deplore the budget deficit, and the national debt, but we won’t give widespread support to those who will reform entitlements and other problem areas of spending.

We demand government solutions to every problem under the sun, we support bigger government programs, but we refuse to support the tax hikes to pay for them.

We want the benefits of big government without paying for it. We want to eliminate the budget deficit, but we don’t want broad tax hikes or spending cuts to accomplish it. We say cynical about politicians and their greed and love of power, yet we keep sending largely the same group of people back to the halls of power election after election.

We’re quick to blame our nation’s problems on dysfunction in Washington DC, and the character flaws of our leaders, but the problem is us.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Roy_Bean

    I’ll do my best to limit Heidi to one term.

  • SigFan

    It’s the old he may be a bastard but he’s our bastard conundrum. That added to the fact that both parties make it very difficult to beat an incumbent just so that party can keep the seat and it isn’t really all that surprising that the same faces keep going back term after term. Constitutionally mandated term limits would fix the problem, but I would be totally shocked to see an elected official champion that bill.

    • Rob

      Constitutionally mandated term limits would fix the problem

      The problem being, of course, that we’re all too stupid (or too hypocritical) to vote for different ideas.

      • SigFan

        There is a measure of that of course, but as I said the parties make it extremely difficult to unseat an incumbent, rarely do they back a challenger financially or otherwise, even when the challenger is clearly a better choice. Ted Cruz is one example of someone who bucked the establishment and won, but he is an exceptionally talented person and campaigner. Unless a challenger has those same qualities it’s damn near impossible to beat someone who doesn’t want to give up his/her seat.

        • Rob

          They are few, and we are many. If we wanted to, we could start third parties to rival them.

          But we don’t, because we lack the will.

          • SigFan

            I agree and would really like to see the emergence of strong third-parties on both sides. The difficulty there though is whether there are enough disaffected Democrats that would split from the party to back a different “liberal” (for lack of a better term) party. I don’t think there would be nearly the difficulty in getting a strong conservative third party together and expect that the tea party might even evolve into that. But the question that raises is would there be enough backing for that to win or would it dilute the Republican side so much that it would be a perpetual loser to a unified Democrat party? I agree that we the people have the power to make these things happen, but we need to get out of complacency and back to activism if there’s to be any chance.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            Problem is that you would have to organize the third party very quickly or the incumbent parties would just freeze them out of the committees, which is where the real governing is done.

            If you can’t get on the committees, you are more likely to be voted out in the next election for lack of results.

            The D’s and R’s have gamed the system to shut other parties out.

            I am not sure I like this system, but when I see coalition governments in other countries, I am not sure I dislike it.

          • Rob

            But where do the committees get their strength? Why do they say what happens?

            Because the masses listen to them.

            What would happen if we stopped doing as they say?

            The problem is we won’t. For the same reasons why we don’t really want to balance the budget, even though we say we do, and for the same reason why we don’t vote out many incumbents, even though we say we want to.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            Committees have there power because Article I section 5 allows each house of Congress to make its own rules and they make rules that perpetuate a two party system.
            Sounds to me like you don’t want a third party, you want a different second party.

        • SusanBeehler

          Choice is all in the eyes of the one doing the choosing.

  • Matthew Hawkins

    Term limits require a constitutional amendment. I think it is doubtful.

    • Rob

      I agree and, frankly, I don’t think our problem is a lack of term limits.

      I think our problem is who we’re nominating to run for office, and who we’re voting for to win.

  • yy4u2

    Back in the day, I’m guessing there was some mud slinging but not to the level and cost to those seeking office as is done today. Who in their right minds would continue to vote for Reid, Pelosi, Rangel, etc. They have deep pockets to trash someone and no worries for rebuttals.

    • SusanBeehler

      Did you live back in the day. A great question is “Who in their “right” mind would want to jump in and play the game?” Politics is a vicious sport. It takes very broad shoulders to play.

    • Rob

      Back in the day, I’m guessing there was some mud slinging but not to the level and cost to those seeking office as is done today.

      Well, we certainly have more media today than ever before, but the mud slung “back in the day” was no cleaner than that slung today.

      Review the pamphleteers and the faction they sowed in the Adams/Hamilton/Jefferson era.

      It’s always been this way.

      • Old&InTheWay

        “It’s always been this way”….Yes, the words and intentions ARE similar…. But do you honestly believe the costs of running for national office in the Information Age even come close to the pamphleteer era??? I’m not entirely convinced that it is overt hypocrisy or a lack of will that prevents the American people from organizing a credible third party, but rather a resignation that the current system is gamed to those with the resources….And I really don’t see it getting any better in light of recent court rulings…Personally, I see similarities between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement…. People are frustrated, angry, and hungry for change….It’s just my opinion, but if enough people forced a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits and a presidential line item veto, we might be able to do actually do something significant about how our government represents us….Call me crazy, but I’m not entirely convinced that just because “It’s always been this way” is always a good reason for accepting the status quo….

  • banjo kid

    America is basically a lazy nation they do not like change and they do not like new things in government and for some reason I do believe they are very lazy when it comes to voting.

    • SusanBeehler

      Many do not like to read either, or if they can’t remember your name, like it is hard to spell or something they won’t vote for you. Everyone loves the R or the D because than they really don’t have to think hard about it. They can just check all the R boxes. Human nature and don’t rock the boat mentality rules.

  • SusanBeehler

    Because it is easy, people like easy, familiarity, lets just do the same thing again and again, because it is easy.

    • Rob

      I think that’s right.

      “Because it’s easy.”

      That, and we’re hypocrites. Balance the budget! Just not, you know, at my expense.

      • $16179444

        except it shouldn’t be at our expense…it should be at the expense of the people that got us in this mess in the first place.

  • Stuart

    Years ago I was concerned about TERM LIMITS and looked to see which Congressional Leaders believed in having them. Many said yes we should! BUT
    am I wrong in stating the SUPREME COURT has already ruled against having TERM LIMITS?

    Please advise me and your readers on the issue ROB!

    • Rob

      The Supreme Court ruled that term limits imposed by the states are unconstitutional. The Rhenquist court ruled in
      U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton
      that the states cannot impose restrictions on service in Congress that are more severe than the Constitution’s. Which is the right ruling.

      If we want to impose term limits, it would have to be done by amending the US constitution.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    Americans’ opinions on politicians are like their opinions on schools. Nationally, the politicians are bad, but the local politician is a good guy. Americans think schools are bad, but the local school is good.

    • Rob

      Yes, but the parochialism goes beyond that.

      The national debt is bad, but the deficit spending in my back yard is good.

      Etc., etc.

  • DakotaKid

    Most people who vote are ignorant and simply vote for a recognizable name. If you limit terms the uninformed voters will have random votes and cancel out. Then the informed voters will make the difference. You may have your favorite loose, but the people corrupted by too much time in office will be moved along painlessly.

    • Rob

      Most people who vote are ignorant and simply vote for a recognizable name.

      To expand on this point a bit, most people are pretty ignorant of current events, but also won’t admit how ignorant they are. Which is how Jimmy Kimmel gets all those great videos of people talking about things that aren’t true, or that haven’t happened yet.

      People go into the voting booths and vote how they feel. Because most of them don’t really know what they’re voting for.

  • borborygmi

    We have met the enemy and it is us!

  • borborygmi

    Even Tea Party Candidates who complained the loudest about how long the opposition has been won’t commit to self imposed term limits.

  • The Fighting Czech

    OK, lets say your a screaming liberal, cant take money away from A and give it to B fast enough. Now say your all in favor of term limits. ( You dont like politicians becoming to cozy with the system,) Now for argument sake, lets say there is no presidential term limits. Who would i expect you to vote for? a president that has been in office to long? or a big, bad, evil, Republican? Thats it, your only choice….I would venture you would gladly vote for any liberal that will continue to steal money from A to give to B, then some Repub…. So I guess youll vote for The Current president…
    this article really has nothing to do with the way people currently vote. its just more wacky spin to try to convince people that we dont need term limits.

  • ‘Tom Crawford

    This does not make sense to me.
    Why the cry for term limits when you have it already in place with voting.

    This sounds more like whining when you can’t get what you want so they cry term limits when they cannot change the will of those that are getting voted in.

    We have “term limits” already in place, its called voting. Don’t like the ones you have in office, vote them out. If you don’t, well then, you get what you vote for.

    ….and if you don’t like it, then start changing people’s minds to vote differently.