Although he is not running for re-election in 2016, President Obama likely will hear some supporters chant “Four more years!” at upcoming political events. But he won’t take it seriously.

He can’t. Since 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has prohibited U.S. presidents from being elected to more than two terms. Even before 1951, most presidents followed the example set by the first U.S. president, George Washington, and walked away from power after their second four-year term was done.

Critics of presidential term limits see the 22nd Amendment as limiting the will of voters who might want to keep a president in office and as weakening second-term presidents by making them “lame ducks.”

A 1912 political cartoon shows former President Theodore Roosevelt being discouraged by George Washington’s ghost from seeking a third presidential term. (National Archives)

But proponents identify benefits. Term limits encourage fresh ideas and guard against any single leader becoming indispensable. The presidency, they argue, is a job, not a career.

Because presidents nominate justices for the U.S. Supreme Court, one who serves 12 or more years might influence greatly the composition of the court. 

Thomas Cronin, a professor at Colorado College and expert on the presidency, says, “The 22nd Amendment is a practical if imperfect compromise between the need for energy, decisiveness and leadership in the presidency and the republican principle of rotation in office.”

Two-thirds of Americans favor the 22nd Amendment and presidential term limits. “Most Americans understand that term limits are a trade-off for the protection of liberty,” Cronin said.

Graphic reading "Elections 2016" (State Dept./J. Maruszewski)