Time, Term Limits, and Turnover: Trends in Membership Stability in U.S. State Legislatures

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Increases in legislative professionalization along with the implementation of term limits in about one-third of the American states raise significant questions about the path of state house and senate turnover. We first update turnover figures for all states, by chamber, from the mid-1980s through 2002. We then compare turnover rates in states with and without term limits. We find that turnover rates, overall, continued to decline through the 1980s but that the long downward trend abated in the 1990s as a result of term limits. The effects of term limits vary depending on the length of the term limit and the opportunity structure in the state. There is also a strong relationship between the presence of term limits and interchamber movement. In addition to term limits, professionalization levels, redistricting, the presence of multi-member districts, and partisan swings explain differences in turnover rates between states.