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Baker Institute establishes program to study U.S. presidential elections

Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy has become the nation’s first think tank to establish a program dedicated solely to the study of U.S. presidential campaigns and elections.

The newly created Baker Institute Presidential Elections Program will offer timely analysis and provide voters, candidates and political parties with a better understanding of the quickly changing dynamics of presidential electoral politics. The program will adhere to the institute’s policy of objective, bipartisan and comprehensive research and analysis.

Baker Institute Director Edward Djerejian said the institute is the perfect place for such a program because its namesake, former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, is the only person in modern history who helped lead five presidential campaigns.

“No one has more experience in presidential politics than Secretary Baker,” Djerejian said. “His accumulated and unrivaled background in national election strategy and politics is well-respected by those on both sides of the aisle, and it will provide the foundation for our program.”

The U.S. presidency occupies the pinnacle of the country’s political system and is arguably the single most powerful and influential position in the world, Djerejian said. "Although a handful of universities and other research organizations study the office of the president and presidential leadership, there remains a prominent gap in the academic and popular understanding of U.S. presidential elections," he said.

“Few events around the world generate as much interest as U.S. presidential elections,” said Baker, the institute’s founding chairman. “The institute’s new program will focus with laser-like intensity on issues surrounding presidential campaigns.”

The primary focus of the Presidential Elections Program will be a major conference during each presidential election year and an intervening year. The biennial events will serve as national forums for the study of modern presidential electoral politics and campaigns. The conferences will be led by honorary directors from each of the two major political parties who have firsthand experience in managing or advising presidential election campaigns.

Each year that a conference is held, the program will produce a policy report that summarizes the event’s major discussions and debates. The honorary directors will select each conference’s topic, which could include a variety of subjects ranging from the effects of money on presidential campaigns to the role of the media in the electoral process.

John B. Williams, policy assistant and speechwriter for Baker and a former political reporter with the Houston Chronicle, has been named an institute fellow to help coordinate the program, along with Mark Jones, Baker Institute fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies.


Click here here for a Houston Chronicle story on the program.