Term limits and pork barrel politics

Dan Bernhardt, Sangita Dubey, Eric Hughson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We develop a dynamic model of democratic politics in which both potential office holders and the electorate have heterogeneous ideologies. Voters have incomplete information about candidate ideologies, so they must use information from previous positions taken in office to make informed re-election decisions. We characterize the effects of term limits on the evolution over time of the ideological positions taken by office holders and derive the implications for voter choice and welfare. Contributions of our paper include: • We detail how pork provision by more senior incumbents interacts with term limits to affect electoral outcomes. Pork provision-transfers of resources from districts with junior legislators to districts with more senior legislators-induces voters to be more forgiving of extreme location by incumbents, especially incumbents in small or poor districts. Pork provision can explain why re-election probabilities in Congress exceed those for governors. - Term limits reduce voter welfare when all that matters are the ideological positions taken by the office holder. - Term limits may be advantageous when senior incumbents can extract benefits for their constituencies at the expense of districts with more junior representatives. Large or rich districts especially value term limits when there is substantial pork provision. • We characterize the welfare of all voters, not just the median voter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2383-2422
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Public Economics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Politics
  • Term limits
  • Voter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'Term limits and pork barrel politics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this