Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version



Baldwin, M. (2020) The Impact of State Legislative Term Limits on Descriptive Representation.


Copyright Matt Baldwin 2020.


Do term limits make state legislatures more descriptively representative of their population? If the composition of a state legislature is a function of its ruleset and design, then term limits—a major shift in the rules—would change who is running for office and who is getting elected. In order to explore this question, a dataset was created by contacting a number of states to solicit responses on the demographics of their state legislatures from 1990-2018. In addition, information regarding some control variables (partisanship, time, economy) was gathered. A gap variable was created to see what difference existed between the proportion of a state’s total population that is nonwhite compared to the population of a state legislature. A larger gap means a state’s legislature is whiter than the public.

Term limits had a negative, significant correlation on the gap variable when controlling for other factors. While term limits are usually viewed as a negative in political science literature due to reducing the power of legislatures and inflating state budgets, this is one area where term limits may be viewed as a force for positive changed in making a representative democracy more representative.