DP14857 The Optimal Length of Political Terms

Author(s): Hans Gersbach, Matthew O. Jackson, Oriol Tejada
Publication Date: June 2020
Keyword(s): costs of change, Elections, Polarization, term-length
JEL(s): C72, C73, D72, D78
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14857

We analyze the optimal length of political terms (equivalently, the optimal frequency with which elections should be held) when the candidates of two polarized parties compete for office and the median voter shifts over time. Office-holders determine policy and experience persistent random shocks to their valence. Policy changes are costly for citizens and politicians. Optimal term-length balances the frequency of costly policy changes when parties change office with the incumbent's average valence during tenure. We find that optimal term-length increases with party polarization, with the degree to which the median voter cares about valence, and with the frequency and the size of swings in the electorate. In contrast, optimal term-length decreases when candidates for office undergo less scrutiny or when parties care more about future outcomes. Finally, with small swings in the electorate and large polarization, optimal term-length increases if checks and balances increase.