Sunsets Are for Suckers: An Experimental Test of Sunset Clauses

45 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2020 Last revised: 8 Apr 2021

See all articles by Kristen Underhill

Kristen Underhill

Columbia University - Law School

Ian Ayres

Yale University - Yale Law School; Yale University - Yale School of Management

Date Written: January 13, 2020


We used a randomized experimental vignette study to assess the effects of sunset clauses and conditional sunset clauses on support for proposed legislation, perceived legitimacy of legislation, and perceived good faith of legislators. In general, we hypothesized that including both types of sunset clause would increase support for legislation, increase perceived legitimacy, and increase perceived good faith. We also varied the political valence of legislation to identify whether the impact of sunset clauses varies depending on whether the legislation aligns with political viewpoint. We hypothesized that sunset clauses may increase support for laws that run contrary to political views. Our sample included 1639 adults from throughout the U.S. Participants tended to be more supportive of neutral laws compared to laws with liberal or conservative valence. Across all participants, we found that adding a sunset clause or a conditional sunset clause did not significantly affect overall support for the law, holding political valence and topic area constant. Our findings, however, showed consistently that the sunsets tended to increase support for conservative laws more than they increased support for laws that were liberal or neutral in valence. Pairwise comparisons showed that when the policy was conservative, a sunset clause and a conditional sunset clause each significantly increased support compared to no sunset. Among Liberal participants, adding either type of sunset significantly increased support for a conservative policy (p<0.05). Among Conservative participants, we found that sunsets did not affect support for liberal policies, but they marginally increased support for laws that were already conservative. Overall, sunset clauses tended to induce a broader range of compromise beliefs and significantly more compromise support for conservative legislation, compared to liberal legislation.

Keywords: sunset clause; legislation

JEL Classification: K00; K4

Suggested Citation

Underhill, Kristen and Ayres, Ian, Sunsets Are for Suckers: An Experimental Test of Sunset Clauses (January 13, 2020). Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 651, Available at SSRN: or

Kristen Underhill (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

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Ian Ayres

Yale University - Yale Law School ( email )

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United States
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Yale University - Yale School of Management

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