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What is a Lame Duck Politician?

By Venus D.
Updated May 23, 2024
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A lame duck politician is someone in office who is neither beholden to the constituency that elected him or her nor able to garner any political support. This is because the lame duck politician is simply in office until the election winner takes over. The incumbent may have lost the election, or he or she may be unable to run for re-election due to ineligibility or personal choice. There are often many lame duck politicians in the United States, because politician-elects are not inaugurated until some time after the election results have been declared. The president-elect, for example, does not enter office until 20 January, despite the fact that elections are conducted in November.

The 20th Constitutional Amendment, which calls for this protocol for change in the executive office to coincide with a new session in Congress, is known as the Lame Duck Amendment. It eliminated a lame duck session of Congress, during which nothing was accomplished. Before this amendment was added, the president-elect did not enter office until 4 March. Therefore, Congress, which was required to convene once a year in December, spent a couple of months after an election with no proper leadership from the executive branch.

The 20th Amendment was passed on 23 January 1933, after the Great Depression worsened under the lame duck presidency of Herbert Hoover, despite the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt had already been elected. The amendment allows for a lame duck president or governor to call a lame duck session of Congress. Legislators in Congress can decide to convene for a lame duck session by voting on the issue during the session prior to an election.

The term lame duck was coined during the 18th century by the London Stock Exchange, and it was originally used to refer to someone who is not able to meet his or her financial obligations due to losses faced in the stock market trade. In this sense, a lame duck could also be a trader or investor who made a series of bad investments and, as a result, withstood financial losses. Lame duck can also refer to a player in a game who cannot win but remains in the game.

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Discussion Comments

By apolo72 — On Feb 15, 2008

With US Presidents, doesn't the term lame duck tend to be applied to the outgoing president's final year in office?

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