Small congressional districts: the best alternative to term limits.

We love our Representatives so much that, since 1968, their average reelection rate has been 94%.

We love our Representatives so much that, since 1968, their average reelection rate has been 94%.

If it’s not love, then it must be the nearly insurmountable advantage afforded to incumbents by their massively oversized congressional districts. Fortunately, term limits are not the only solution.

Overcome the Incumbency Advantage

Given the problem of career politicians serving the Special Interests first, themselves second, and the public third (if at all), the idea of term limits is very popular with the American people. Unfortunately, because it would require a constitutional amendment, it has proven difficult to impose term-limits on members of Congress.

With respect to the House of Representatives, substantially increasing the number of Representatives will achieve many of the goals of enacting term limits.  How? By significantly reducing the population size of congressional districts, it will be much easier for credible challengers to replace sitting incumbents.

Fortunately, enlarging our representation does not require a constitutional amendment. And, in fact, a substantially larger House could be the key to finally proposing a term limits amendment.

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  • 1
    As a result of the 2020 population census, the national average district size will be equal to the total population of the 50 states (331,108,434) divided by 435.
  • 2
  • 3
    According to OpenSecrets.org’s Incumbent Advantage page, for the 2019-2020 election cycle, 407 incumbents seeking reelection were able to raise over $2.7 million each (on average). In contrast, 1,141 challengers were only able to raise $418 each (on average).
  • 4
    “Years in office” is the average continuous tenure in office of all Representatives who comprise each of the first 108 Congresses regardless of the reason they left office (e.g., defeat, retirement, death); the dashed line indicates the underlying trend. Tenure data is preferred to reelection rates because it is highly reliable across all periods of time.
  • 5
    Also see “Constituency Size and Incumbent Safety: A Reexamination” by Edward L. Lascher (Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2. (Jun., 2005), pp. 269-278.
  • 6
    A similar point is made in “Constituency Size and Incumbent Safety: A Reexamination”, Edward L. Lascher,
    Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 2. (Jun., 2005), pp. 269-278.
  • 7
    In 1789, the first congress proposed that the average population size of congressional districts be no larger than 50,000 to complement the average minimum size of 30,000 specified in the Constitution (as explained in Section 1). Consequently, Thirty-Thousand.org uses 50,000 to illustrate the concept of true citizen representation.
  • 8
  • 9
    Though a small and oligarchic House of Representatives would never propose such an amendment, it is very likely that it would be proposed by an Article V Convention of States (which is not the same thing as a “constitutional convention”).