Date of this Version
Long, Jared. Term Limits, Political Polarization, and Voter Behavior: An Analysis of the Nebraska Unicameral. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. March 2021.
Term limits are an often-debated reform proposal in American politics. In the 1990s and 2000s, many states adopted a range of term limit policies, including Nebraska. At the time, many bold predictions were made for how such a significant structural change in state governance might affect political norms. Over the past 20 to 30 years, many empirical studies have been carried out to weigh the merits of these predictions. However, much research has focused on institutional effects within state legislatures themselves; less focus has been given to the residual effects on voters themselves.
This paper posits the argument that term limits can influence voter turnout through at least two mechanisms: an increase in political polarization and an increase in electoral competition, both of which may promote greater citizen participation. Here, I examine electoral competition in Nebraska since 1980 through a number of measures and find that term limits may indeed have contributed to greater competition after their implementation in Nebraska, at least in a reduction in margins of victory. Along the way, I outline the history of term limits, catalogue existing research on their effects, and develop a novel theory to describe how political polarization operates in the United States.