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71% Favor Term Limits for Congress

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Voters strongly support term limits for all members of Congress but don’t think it’s very likely the national legislators will vote to limit how long they can serve. 

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 71% of Likely U.S. Voters favor establishing term limits for all members of Congress. Just 14% oppose setting such limits, and 15% are undecided about them. (To see survey question wording, click here.) 

Voter support for term limits has remained high even after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling that individual states did not have the right to place limits on its representatives. As a practical matter, that 1995 court decision means only Congress has the authority to place limits on itself.

But only 18% of all voters think Congress is even somewhat likely to pass legislation that establishes term limits on people elected to Congress, with five percent (5%) who say it’s Very Likely. Seventy-five percent (75%) feel Congress is unlikely to limit how long its members can serve. That includes 27% who say it’s Not At All Likely. According to Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, “Voters recognize that expecting Members of Congress to place reasonable limits on themselves is like expecting toddlers to select a reasonable bedtime.”

Why term limits? One reason may be that 70% of voters agree with the statement that “once someone is in office too long, they start looking out for themselves and their friends more than the interests of the people.” Just 16% disagree with the statement, and 14% more are not sure. Rasmussen added, “The nation’s founders believed that the only way to hold a legislator accountable was to insure that they come back and live under the laws they created for the rest of us. That rarely happens in the twenty-first century.” Most voters believe that the legislators routinely win re-election because the system is rigged to benefit incumbents. Hardly any believe that the “representatives” earn re-election by serving their constituents well.

Voters overwhelmingly believe that most members of Congress are more interested in helping their own careers than in helping other people. Forty-six percent (46%) viewed most members of Congress as corrupt. These are the most pessimistic assessments ever found on those questions in surveys stretching back to early November 2006. A plurality believes that a group of people randomly selected from the phone book would do a better job than the current Congress.

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on September 22-23, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

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