picture of Baumgartner

Frank R. Baumgartner

Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
313 Hamilton Hall
Campus Box 3265
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3265, USA
Phone 919 962 3041
Fax 919 962 0432

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Biographical information

Frank R. Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He joined the department in 2009 as the first holder of the Richardson professorship. A proud Detroiter, he attended Detroit's Cass Technical High School and then received all his academic degrees at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, receiving his BA in 1980 (honors in both French and Political Science, Phi Beta Kappa, high distinction); MA in 1983 (Political Science); and PhD in 1986 (Political Science). He has held academic positions at The University of Iowa (1986-87), Texas A&M University (1987-98), and Penn State University (1998-2009) where he served as Department Head (1999-2004), Distinguished Professor (2005-07), and then was the first holder of the Bruce R. Miller and Dean D. LaVigne Professorship (2007-09). He has had visiting professor appointments at Caltech (1998-99) and at the universities of Michigan, Washington, Bergen (Norway), Aberdeen (Scotland), the Institute for Public Management (Paris), Sciences Po (Paris), the European University Institute (EUI, Florence, Italy), the Camargo Foundation (Cassis, France), the University of Barcelona (Spain), and the University of Edinburgh (Scotland).


He currently serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Public Policy, Public Administration, Policy Studies Journal, Political Research Quarterly, the Journal of European Public Policy, Gouvernement et Action Publique, and other journals. His work focuses on public policy, agenda-setting, and interest groups in American and comparative politics and has appeared in such journals as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Comparative Politics, the Journal of European Public Policy, and Legislative Studies Quarterly. In recent years he has also been involved in studies of race and criminal justice.


With Bryan D. Jones, he created the Policy Agendas Project, and they continue to co-direct it, with John Wilkerson. Jones and Baumgartner have written three books together, all published by the University of Chicago Press: The Politics of Information (2015); The Politics of Attention: How Government Prioritizes Problems (2005); and Agendas and Instability in American Politics (1993; second edition 2009). In 2001, the APSA Organized Section on Public Policy awarded the Aaron Wildavsky Award for this book as "a work of lasting impact on the field of public policy." In 2016, the National Academy of Public Administration awarded them the Louis Brownlow Award, denoting The Politics of Information as the best book in the field in 2015, and in 2017 the International Public Policy Association will award the book its prize as the best book on public policy published in English in 2015.


With various collaborators, he has co-edited these books or special journal issues from the agendas project: The Dynamics of Policy Change in Comparative Perspective, special issue of Comparative Political Studies (August 2011, vol. 44, no. 8; co-edited with Sylvain Brouard, Christoffer Green-Pedersen, Bryan D. Jones, and Stefaan Walgrave); Comparative Studies of Policy Agendas, a special issue of the Journal of European Public Policy (13,7, September 2006; coedited with Bryan D. Jones and Christoffer Green-Pedersen); Policy Dynamics (co-edited, with Bryan D. Jones; University of Chicago Press, 2002);


Other books include Basic Interests (with Beth Leech), on the importance of interest groups in American politics and political science (Princeton University Press, 1998) and Conflict and Rhetoric in French Policymaking (Pittsburgh, 1989), on agenda-setting in French politics. This book was based on his dissertation.


In 2008, his book The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence (Cambridge University Press, 2008, with Suzanna De Boef and Amber E. Boydstun) was awarded the Gladys M. Kammerer Award by the American Political Science Association for the best book on US national policy. He remains involved in various projects relating to the death penalty including its use in the state of North Carolina.


In 2009, the University of Chicago Press published Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why (Frank R. Baumgartner, Jeffrey M. Berry, Marie Hojnacki, David C. Kimball, and Beth L. Leech), reporting the findings from the Lobbying and Policy Advocacy Project, based on interviews with over 300 Washington lobbyists and policymakers. This book won the Leon D. Epstein Outstanding Book Award from the APSA Section on Political Organizations and Parties in 2010.


In 2015 the University of Chicago Press published The Politics of Information (Frank R. Baumgartner and Bryan D. Jones), reflecting years of work on the policy agendas project. The book focuses on the inherent tension between the overwhelming complexity of the issues confronting government and the need for order, clarity, and clear lines of hierarchical control. Search, information, and monitoring systems that are well adopted for dealing with complexity involve redundancy, overlap, and networks of actors who may be only partially coupled to others within the system; this is well reflected in the US government through separation of powers and federalism. However, institutional designs for clear and efficient delivery of known and well-understood policy solutions should be more efficient. Thus, given the complexity of the tasks of government, and the ambiguities of what issues are problems and what are the best soluations, inherent tensions are at the core of our very concepts of what government should do. The book demonstrates this dynamic and provides a new understanding of the growth and development of the US government with a focus on the post-1947 period. It takes some of the ideas of complexity and bounded rationality first developed in The Politics of Attention and explores their implications in new ways.


In 2015 Palgrave Macmillan published Agenda Dynamics in Spain (Laura Chaqués Bonafont, Anna M. Palau, and Frank R. Baumgartner), based on the Spanish agendas project. This is the third book to appear as part of the new Palgrave Macmillan series on Comparative Studies of Political Agendas. It represents the result of years of work on the Spanish agendas project, facilitated by a grant from the government of Catalonia and frequent visits to Barcelona during a 2011 sabbatical.


Comparative policy agendas projects are underway in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, the European Union, France, Greece, Hungary, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, and for the US states of Pennsylvania and Florida.  These projects are at various stages of completion from just beginning to fully established.


Much of his current agenda has to do with studies of race, with particular focus on the death penalty and on traffic stops. With UNC colleagues Seth Kotch (American Studies) and Isaac Unah (Political Science), he is writing a book tentatively entitled A Deadly Symbol: Race and Capital Punishment in North Carolina, focusing on the decline of the death penalty in the state, its low rate of use, but its potent racial symbolism throughout history.


In 2011 he began a research project with graduate student Derek Epp focused on the analysis of all traffic stops in the state, based on official data collected since 2000, but never subjected to systematic analysis. This work has led to considerable news coverage across the state and is engaging policymakers to address the problem of racial profiling. Baumgartner, Epp, and UNC Ph.D. student Kelsey Shoub are revising chapters of a book tentatively entitled Eroding Trust, Policing Anger: How Racial Disparities in Traffic Stops Threaten Democratic Values. The book takes a comprehensive look at over 20 million traffic stops in North Carolina and focuses on racial profiling and the high costs, but low dividends, of diverting the traffic safety function of traffic patrols to the war on drugs. The book is under contract with Cambridge University Press and they expect to submit the complete draft in Summer 2017.


With a number of current and former UNC undergraduate students, he recently finished a book entitled Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty which brings together much of his recent work on race, innocence, delays, reversals, and the geographically arbitrary nature of the death penalty in the modern (post-1976) era. The book has three audiences: students in his POLI 203 class on the death penalty (and similar classes nation-wide), anyone concerned about the facts of how the death penalty actually operates (as opposed to how we might wish it operated), and the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Breyer in particular has recently called for a review of our experience with the death penalty, and this book seeks to answer some of the most pertinent empirical questions relevant to that review. This will be published by Oxford University Press in 2017.


In 2011 the APSA Section on Political Organizations and Parties named Baumgartner the recipient of the Samuel J. Eldersveld Award for Career Achievement. In 2017 he will be inducted as a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


He has been active in the American Political Science Association, serving, among other things, as Chair (2003-04) and member (2004-05) of the Nominating Committee, member of the APSR editor selection committee (2014-15), and Vice-President of the Association (2015-16). At the Midwest Political Science Association, he has served in various capacities including Co-Chair of the Program Committee for the 1995 annual meetings.


He is active in University service activities, serving as an elected member of the University-wide Faculty Council, as the Diversity officer for Political Science, and in various other service capacities. In 2013-14 he was director of admissions for the PhD program in political science. Since Fall 2014 he has served as the department's director of placement, helping our new PhD graduates to find their first jobs in the profession. While at Penn State he served as Department Head (1999-2004) during a time of a rapid rise in the visibility and research productivity of that department.


He occasionally makes comments in the media, and is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network; click here to go to his SSN profile.


He is married to Jennifer E. Thompson, co-author of the New York Times best-seller Picking Cotton and advocate for judicial reform, increasing awareness about sexual violence, and the elimination of the death penalty. Click on her photo below to go her her professional web site. He serves on the Board of Directors of Healing Justice, an organization Jennifer created in 2015 to help address the extensive human damage caused by wrongful convictions. Healing Justice hopes to promote restorative justice principles in wrongful conviction cases, assist with the provision of services to individuals harmed by wrongful convictions, and create opportunities to unify the diverse voices of those harmed in order to prevent future wrongful convictions.


Links to the left of this page will take you to information concerning his CV, teaching materials, published books and articles, conference papers, and links to web sites and research projects in which he is involved.


Prof. Baumgartner has a bajillion nephews and a lovely and inspiring wife.

fb-picture2 Jennifer-Thompson



updated: April 27, 2017

2-page CV




Conference Papers

Policy Agendas


Death Penalty


Traffic Stops

Student Research

PhD Placement

Tips and Pointers