Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson

Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson is a Professor of Political Science at Wayne State University. She received her Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Michigan in 1992. Her primary research and teaching interests revolve around policy making and change in public sector organizations. One major policy change in Michigan in the past decade is the implementation of legislative term limits.

As the principal investigator of the term limits research project, Dr. Sarbaugh-Thompson has worked with four other WSU colleagues for more than a decade to produce a comprehensive study of change in Michigan’s legislature. This research relies heavily on face-to-face interviews with Michigan’s state House members conducted in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004 and State Senators in 2000, 2006, and 2010. Initial findings were published in 2004 in a book entitled, The Political and Institutional Effects of Term Limits. A second book, Implementing Term Limits: The Case of Michigan’s Legislature, is forthcoming March 2017.

Her other research interests include the cost of lead poisoning children in Detroit and how presidents establish their legitimacy during the transition between their election and inauguration. Recently Dr. Sarbaugh-Thompson participated in a 50 state study of legislative oversight of the executive branch. This research was partially funded by the Levin Center at Wayne Law and by the Center for Urban Studies. A link to a webinar on best practices for state legislative oversight is provided above. Building on this work, Dr. Sarbaugh-Thompson recently collaborated with the Levin Center to conduct research on state legislative oversight of executive branch contracts.

Research interest(s)/area of expertise

  • State legislatures, especially term limits and state legislative oversight
  • Michigan politics
  • Public policy
  • Change in public organizations


  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, M., Thompson, L. (2023). The Maiden Voyage of Michigan’s Redistricting Commission. In: Wilson, W.C., Foreman, S.D., Godwin, M.L. (eds) The Roads to Congress 2022. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
  • Taylor, Kristin, Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie, Betz, Steven. 2021. “State Legislative Committee Deliberations: Why Some Issues are Difficult and Where State Legislators Turn for Help.” Social Science Quarterly. 2021; 1-18.
  • “Michigan’s 11th Congressional and the Anti-Trump Wave,” in The Roads to Congress 2018, edited by Sean D. Foreman, Marcia L. Godwin and Walter Clark Wilson, pp 137-154, Palgrave. (2019) Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie and Lyke Thompson.   A discussion of factors that contributed to Haley Stevens victory in Michigan's 11th Congressional District
  • Implementing Term Limits: The Case of the Michigan Legislature, University of Michigan Press, 2017, by Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson and Lyke Thompson.  Based on 13 years of research involving 460 interviews with state legislators
  • Checks and Balances in Action: Legislative Oversight in the States, 2019, Co-investigator with Lyke Thompson and with assistance for multiple Wayne State Political Science Department students. Report available at



Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Michigan, 1992

Awards and grants

  • 2020 Research on Legislative Oversight of State Service Contracts. Funded by the Levin Center at Wayne Law.
  • 2016 What Makes a Decision Difficult for Legislators, Women of Wayne, $1,000, Kristin O'Donovan and Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson
  • 2017-18 Research on Legislative Oversight in the 50 States, funded by the Levin Center, WSU and by the Center for Urban Studies, WSU
  • 2006 Outstanding Faculty Award from the Wayne State University Educational Accessibility Services
  • 1996 President’s Award for Teaching Excellence

News mentions

Selected publications

  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie and Lyke Thompson (2024) “The 2024 Election: The Roads to the White House Lead through Michigan.” Invited blog post for the London School of Economics USAPP—American Politics and Policy, February 12,
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson Marjorie and Lyke Thompson (2024), “An Independent Commission is Racing to Redraw Detroit’s Voting Maps Under a Court Order, But the Change May Not Elect More Black Candidates, The Conversation, Feb. 2, 2024.
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie and Lyke Thompson (2017) The University of Michigan Press. Implementing Term Limits: The Case of the Michigan Legislature
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie (2016). “Legislative Power.” Global Encyclopedia of Public Administration, Public Policy, and Governance, edited by Ali Farazmand. Springer
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie (2016). Battleground States: Michigan, The Cook Political Report, edited by Michael Nelson, November 2, 2016,
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie and Lyke Thompson, 2015 Longer terms are the only way to get effective leaders guest column Detroit Free Press October 3, 2015
  • Thompson, Lyke and Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, 2014 Why spending the surplus on improving Michigan trumps a teensy tax cut, guest column Detroit Free Press January 30, 2014
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie, John Strate, Kelly LeRoux, Lyke Thompson, Richard Elling, and Charles D. Elder. 2010. Legislators and Administrators: Complex Relationships Complicated by Term Limits, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 35:1, 57-89
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie. 2010. “Measuring ‘Term Limitedness’ in Cross Sectional Research,” State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 10:2, 199-217
  • Sarbaugh-Thompson, Marjorie, Lyke Thompson, Charles D. Elder, Meg Comins, Richard C. Elling, and John Strate 2006. “Democracy Among Strangers: Term Limits’ Effects on Relationships Between Legislators,” State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 6:4, pp. 384-409
  • Caress, Stanley M., Charles Elder, Richard Elling, Jean-Philippe Faletta, Shannon K. Orr, Eric Rader, Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, John Strate, and Lyke Thompson 2003. “Effect of Term Limits on the Election of Minority State Legislators,” State and Local Government Review, 35:3, pp. 183-195
  • Abbott, Philip, Lyke Thompson, and Marjorie Sarbaugh–Thompson 2002. "The Social Construction of A Legitimate Presidency" Studies in American Political Development, pp 208-226


Courses taught by Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson

Fall Term 2024 (future)

Winter Term 2024

Fall Term 2023

Winter Term 2023

Winter Term 2022