Blog Background

Frank Baumgartner

December 15, 2015 by Cathleen Fracasse

Frank R. Baumgartner


Frank R. Baumgartner is the Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Baumgartner is an acknowledged expert and prolific writer on public policy, interest groups and the mechanisms of change at the federal policy level. With co-author Bryan D. Jones, Baumgartner applied the concept of Punctuated Equilibrium to social change theory.

Research and Publications

Baumgartner is known for using extensive, detailed data analyses to provide a meaningful understanding of how policy change occurs in the United States. In Agendas and Instability in American Politics (1993), Baumgartner and co-author Bryan D. Jones describe their application of the biological concept of Punctuated Equilibrium to political and social issues. They posit that, though many issues seem to stagnate for long periods of time with little movement in any direction, these stagnant periods may be interrupted by times of rapid change. By advocating a 'long view' of policy analysis, Baumgartner and Jones establish a fresh perspective and a meaningful approach towards a more complete understanding of significant development in social issues.

Also in 1993, Baumgartner and Jones created the Policy Agendas Project. This project uses methodologies described in Agendas and Instability in American Politics and provides a trove of data (easily and freely accessible) about legislation and issues within the United States. "Jones and Baumgartner began the project to address an inability of scholars and policymakers to trace changes in policy activity within particular policymaking areas across longer periods of time. This difficulty was due to the lack of consistent and reliable measures of policymaking activity within policy categories. For example, how would one have confidence that more congressional hearings were held on welfare policies in 1975 than in 2005 (or vice versa)?" The same approach was subsequently used to provide similar tools and content for other jurisdictions through the Comparative Agendas Project (

In Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why, Baumgartner and multiple co-authors present a well-defined methodology for assessment of levers of power and how they are wielded to effect policy change. By developing an approach for randomizing data regarding issues, 'sides' and outcomes of legislative paths, these authors tease out fascinating relationships between lobbyists, citizens and legislators, and identify pathways to change that others have deemed impossible.

What's the Benefit to Big Tent Nation?

Though Baumgartner has turned his attention to issues of race, capital punishment and criminal justice, his work has been instrumental in implementing an evidence-based approach to the assessment of issues, interested parties, and levers of power. By describing in detail his methods and using voluminous data to draw conclusions about the ability of interest groups to level the playing field, Baumgartner brings essential skills, content, tools and analysis to bear on thorny issues with which Big Tent Nation engages.

Much of Baumgartner's analyses and research seek to answer the question of 'who works with whom?' - and understanding how these shared interests of business, interest groups, government and/or individual citizens impact policy outcomes. In Lobbying and Policy Change and other works, Baumgartner offers multiple examples of legislative policy battles that aren't won by the deepest pockets or most connected interests. As the Big Tent Nation community begins to put its weight behind issues important to achieving a more sustainable prosperity, the understandings provided by Baumgartner will be used again and again to light the way towards citizen-driven change.

Selected Bibliography

Baumgartner, F.R., Berry, J.M., Hojnacki, M., Kimball, D.C. and Leech, B.L. (2009) Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Baumgartner, F.R. and Leech, B.L. (2001) Issue niches and policy bandwagons: Patterns of interest group involvement in national politics. Journal of Politics 63(4): 1191–1213. | Article |

Partners in Advocacy: Lobbyists and Government. Officials in Washington. Christine Mahoney, University of Virginia. Frank R. Baumgartner.

Agendas and instability in American politics. FR Baumgartner, BD Jones. University of Chicago Press.

The politics of attention: How government prioritizes problems. BD Jones, FR Baumgartner. University of Chicago Press.





comments powered by Disqus