Frank R. Baumgartner holds the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professorship in Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a position he has held since 2009. He previously held the Bruce R. Miller and Dean LaVigne Chair at Penn State University, and before that was on the faculty at Texas A&M University (1987-98), and the University of Iowa (1986-87). He received all of his academic degrees at the University of Michigan (BA 1980, MA 1983, PhD 1986), after attending public schools in Detroit. He has been a visiting professor at various institutions including Caltech, Washington, Michigan (U.S.), Bergen (Norway), Aberdeen, Edinburgh (UK), Institute of Public Management (Paris), Sciences Po (Paris), Camargo Foundation (Cassis, France), Barcelona (Spain), the European University Institute in Florence (Italy), and the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland).
His work generally focuses on how public policies are made in democracies, with particular attention to lobbying, issue-definition, framing, and agenda-setting including the role of the media and elections. He was one of the creators (with Bryan D. Jones of the University of Texas) of the Comparative Agendas Project, which allows tracking of public policy activities of governments over long periods of time. Over 20 national project teams are now active in this growing network, with hundreds of publications having resulted from the work. He has also developed a sustained research program on issues of racial disparity in the criminal justice system, having published two books on the death penalty and one on police traffic stops. Jones and Baumgartner together developed the "punctuated equilibrium" approach to the study of policy change, explaining how public policies often go through long periods of relative stability occasionally interrupted by bursts of dramatic change. This theory is considered one of the major perspectives on public policy and policy change, worldwide.
His work on lobbying and policy change led him to study how lobbyists make their arguments, and how effective these are. This led to a line of research on the topic of framing public policies. The combination of work on framing, lobbying, agenda-setting, budgeting, and policy change has made him be recognized as a leading scholar in the field of public policy in the US and internationally. In recent years he has focused his attention to issues of race, identity, and criminal justice, and he is known for his work in the fields of capital punishment as well as for large-scale statistical studies of the outcomes of routine traffic stops.
He has published 11 books and edited four others. Several have been with Bryan D. Jones: Agendas and Instability in American Politics (Chicago, 1993, second edition 2009); The Politics of Attention (Chicago, 2005), and The Politics of Information (Chicago, 2015). Other prominent works include Lobbying and Policy Change (Chicago, 2009, with several co-authors), and The Decline of the Death Penalty and the Discovery of Innocence (Cambridge, 2008, with Suzanna DeBoef and Amber Boydstun). His most recent books include Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty (Oxford, 2018, co-authored with four UNC undergraduate students), Suspect Citizens: What 20 Million Traffic Stops Tell Us about Policing and Race (Cambridge, 2018, co-authored with two UNC graduate students), Comparative Policy Agendas: Theory, Data, Tools (Oxford, 2019, co-edited with Christian Breunig and Emiliano Grossman, representing the current state of the Comparative Policy Agendas project), and The Dynamics of Public Opinion (Cambridge Elements, 2021, with UNC colleague Jim Stimson and former graduate students Elizabeth Coggins and Mary Layton Atkinson).
Several of his books have won awards, including the Aaron Wildavsky Award for an enduring contribution to the field of public policy (2001, for Agendas and Instability); the Gladys M. Kammerer Award for the best book on US national policy (2008, for The Decline of the Death Penalty); the Leon D. Epstein Outstanding Book Award on political organizations and parties (2010, for Lobbying and Policy Change); the Louis Brownlow Award for the best book in the field of public administration (2015, for The Politics of Information); the International Public Policy Association book award (2017, also for The Politics of Information); and the C. Herman Pritchett Best Book Award from the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Assocation (for Suspect Citizens). In 2011 he received the Samuel J. Eldersveld Award for Career Achievement from the APSA section on political organizations and parties. In 2017 he was inducted as a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2019 he, Bryan Jones, and their collaborators were recognized with the
Lijphart / Przeworski / Verba Dataset Award from the APSA Section on Comparative Politics (for the Comparative Agendas Project).
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 has received several grants from and worked in various capacities with the National Science Foundation. He reviews for all the major journals, university presses, national research agencies in various countries, and has written tenure and promotion reports for various top universities and conducted various site visits. He has given over 150 invited academic talks at various universities, think tanks, and agencies in the US and Europe. He has given numerous legal trainings relating to the death penalty and traffic stops. His op-eds and media contributions have appeared in many outlets, and he has published scores of articles in the top academic journals in political science, sociology, and public policy.
He is active in University service activities, serving as an elected member of the University-wide Faculty Council (2012-19), faculty co-chair of the Campus Safety Commission (2019-21), as the Diversity officer for Political Science (2011-17), and in various other service capacities. In 2013-14 he was director of admissions for the PhD program in political science. From 2014 to 2017, and again from 2018 onward, 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 lives in Chapel Hill, NC with his spouse, Jennifer E. Thompson, co-author of the New York Times best-seller Picking Cotton and advocate for judicial reform, the rights and needs of crime victims and surviving family members, increasing awareness about sexual violence, and the elimination of the death penalty. He served on the founding Board of Directors of Healing Justice, an organization Jennifer created in 2015. Healing Justice promotes restorative justice principles in wrongful conviction cases, assists with the provision of services to individuals harmed by wrongful convictions, and creates opportunities to unify the diverse voices of those harmed in order to prevent future wrongful convictions. (Jennifer's book was recently listed #3 in a list of the best books of all time on the topic of miscarriages of justice, one ahead of The Count of Monte Cristo.)