Erin O'Brien

Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Boston
Chapter Member: Boston SSN

About Erin

O’Brien’s areas of specialization are poverty politics, campaigning and elections, women and politics, and American public policy. She is a Political Scientist and regular commentator on all things public policy, diversity, elections, and American politics on Boston’s NPR station WGBH as well as numerous other media outlets. She has testified on Beacon Hill regarding for-profit colleges, headlined major domestic practitioner conferences on predatory lending, given presentations on American politics in South Korea, China, and Greece, and worked as the policy coordinator in the Boston Mayoral race. She’s a Bostonian with Buckeye flair who can talk Red Sox and Ohio State football with ease.


In the News

Guest on Under the Radar, April 21, 2019.
Research discussed by Jack Sullivan and Michael Jonas, in "Pressley Leads Changing of the Guard," CommonWealth, September 5, 2018.
Interviewed in "Is It Time to Rethink Voting In Massachusetts?," WBUR, August 13, 2018.
Research discussed by Mike Deehan, in "Baker Wins Some, Loses Some More, In End-of-Session Dash," WGBH, August 7, 2018.
Quoted by Jordan Graham in "Deval Patrick’s CNN Interview Keeps his Hand in Democratic Politics," Boston Herald, August 5, 2018.
Quoted by Christian M. Wade in "Ruling in Union Case Could Cinch Campaign Spending," Gloucester Daily Times, July 6, 2018.
Quoted by Dan Atkinson in "Michael Capuano Denies Push to Abolish ICE," Boston Herald, July 4, 2018.
Quoted by Christian M. Wade in "Diverse Crop of Candidates Seek to Replace Tsongas," The Salem News, October 26, 2017.
Guest on NECN, November 15, 2016.
Quoted by Lewis Wallace in "Goldman Transcripts Show How Clinton Has Evolved," Marketplace, November 7, 2016.
Opinion: "Starting in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS …Elizabeth Warren!," Erin O'Brien, WGBH News, October 19, 2016.
Quoted by Christian M. Wade in "Bay State Raises Big Bucks for Presidential Hopefuls," Eagle-Tribune, October 9, 2016.
Quoted by Adrian Walker in "UMass Budget Hikes are Terrible News for Students," Boston Globe, July 15, 2016.
Opinion: "Three Female Scholars React to Hillary Clinton’s Historic Nomination," Erin O'Brien (with Valerie Hudson and Andra Gillespie), The Conversation, June 7, 2016.
Quoted by Eric Levenson in "Why Charlie Baker’s Anti-Trump Stance is Such Smart Politics," Boston.com, May 8, 2016.
Quoted by Marie Szaniszlo in "Women’s Vote Has Big Power," Boston Herald, March 2, 2016.
Opinion: "Elizabeth Warren is Savvy Not to Endorse Clinton or Sanders," Erin O'Brien, The Conversation, February 29, 2016.
Guest on WGBH Boston Public Radio, December 21, 2015.
Quoted by Paige Smith in "Voting in Boston Municipal Elections Remains Low," Daily Free Press, November 4, 2015.
Quoted by Spencer Buell in "As Low-Turnout Election Looms in Boston, Opportunity Knocks," Metro Boston, November 3, 2015.
Quoted by Chris Villani in "McCain: Trump Too Divisive, `I Don't Think He Could Win'," Boston Herald, September 12, 2015.
Quoted by Chris Cassidy in "Liz Warren-Joe Biden Pairing Would Fan Dem Flames," The Boston Herald, August 26, 2015.
Quoted by Jack Encarnacao in "Charlie & Marty’s Big (Non-Olympic) Ideas," Boston Herald, August 3, 2015.
Guest on Boston Herald Radio, July 28, 2015.
Quoted by Lindsay Kalter in "Donald Trump Says John McCain 'Not a Hero'," Boston Herald, July 19, 2015.
Quoted by Lindsay Kalter in "Donald Trump Steering GOP Field into Tough Topics," Boston Herald, July 11, 2015.
Quoted by Chris Cassidy in "GOP Nominees Sit in the Palms of Mitt Romney's Hands," Boston Herald, July 5, 2015.
Quoted by Lindsay Kalter in "Hillary Clinton Plays to Middle Class," Boston Herald, June 14, 2015.
Quoted by Sean McElwee in "Voter Supression Isn't Over," Huffington Post, May 1, 2015.
Quoted by Chris Cassidy in "Keeping Control Could be Boon or Bust for Hillary Clinton," Boston Herald, April 11, 2015.
Quoted by Chris Cassidy and Richard Weir in "Deval Patrick, Pals Facing an Ethical Challenge," Boston Herald, March 10, 2015.
Quoted by Sean McElwee in "Our Election System’s Anti-Minority Bias is Even Worse than You Think," Salon, March 1, 2015.
Opinion: "Boston Olympic Bid is Bad News for Massachusetts Governor," Erin O'Brien, The Conversation, February 13, 2015.
Quoted by Chris Cassidy in "An Olympian Effort: Winning Bid Would Put Heat on Charlie Baker," Boston Herald, January 8, 2015.
Guest on WGBH Morning Edition, December 2, 2014.
Opinion: "A Boston Olympics: The Name Says Boston but the Pricetag Says Massachusetts," Erin O'Brien, WGBH News, November 21, 2014.
Quoted by Nicholas Handy in "Central MA Residents Poised for Positions in Baker’s Administration," Go Local Worcester, November 10, 2014.
Interviewed in "Will Tisei Join the Baker Administration?," WGBH News, November 7, 2014.
Quoted by Nicholas Handy in "Female Candidates in MA Smash the Glass Ceiling," Go Local Worcester, November 6, 2014.
Quoted by Jessica Heslam in "Gender Gap Ends Up Breaking Baker’s Way," Boston Herald, November 6, 2014.
Guest on WCVB City Line, November 3, 2014.
Quoted by Noah Hoffenberg in "The ABCs of the Ballot Order Effect," Barnstable Patriot, October 31, 2014.
Quoted by Shira Schoenberg in "Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley Work to Seal the Deal in Gubernatorial Campaign's Final Week," Mass Live, October 28, 2014.
Quoted by Jordan Graham in "Gubernatorial Candidates Find New Gear as Vote Nears," Boston Herald, October 27, 2014.
Quoted by Matt Stout in "Hillary Clinton Backing up Martha Coakley Today in Boston," Boston Herald, October 24, 2014.
Quoted by Nicholas Handy in "Worcester’s Demographic Shift Creating Uphill Battle for Republicans," GoLocalWorcester, October 22, 2014.
Quoted by Nicholas Handy in "MA Attorney General Race Deadlocked Heading toward Primary," GoLocalWorcester, September 2, 2014.
Opinion: "What It Means Now that SCOTUS Has Dumped All 'Aggregate Limits'," Erin O'Brien (with Avi Green), Talking Points Memo, April 4, 2014.
Opinion: "Hey Bay Staters, We're Number 42!," Erin O'Brien, Cape Cod Times, January 30, 2014.
Opinion: "On Voting, Nothing to Brag About," Erin O'Brien, The Metro West Daily News, January 26, 2014.
Guest on Boston Public Radio, January 20, 2014.
Guest on Boston Public Radio, January 6, 2014.
Quoted by in "Yup, Voter ID Laws Have Nothing to Do with Fraud," The Daily Beast, January 2, 2014.
Research discussed by "2013 A Low Point for Voting Rights," Melissa Harris-Perry, December 28, 2013.
Research discussed by "Analyzing the Pattern of Voting Access," Up With Steve Kornacki, December 22, 2013.
Quoted by in "Researchers Find Factors Tied to Voting Restriction Bills are 'Basically All Racial'," Talking Points Memo, December 20, 2013.
Opinion: "States with Higher Black Turnout are More Likely to Restrict Voting," Erin O'Brien (with Keith Gunnar Bentele), The Monkey Cage, December 17, 2013.
Opinion: "Talking Politics," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, August 19, 2013.
Opinion: "Talking Politics," Erin O'Brien (with State Senator Robert Hedlund), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, July 1, 2013.
Guest on WGBH’s Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, April 28, 2013.
Opinion: "Where are the Female Candidates for Mayor of Boston?," Erin O'Brien, WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, April 3, 2013.
Guest on Fox News 25 Boston, March 31, 2013.
Opinion: "Politics Roundup," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo and Emily Rooney), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, March 18, 2013.
Research discussed by Akilah Johnson, in "Sequestration? Few Can Explain the Latest Budget Crisis," Boston Globe, February 28, 2013.
Opinion: "State of the Union Preview," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, February 12, 2013.
Opinion: "John Kerry: From Senator to State," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, January 24, 2013.
Opinion: "Politics as Usual," Erin O'Brien (with Michael Goldman and Marvin Venay), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, December 31, 2012.
Research discussed by Annie Schreffler, in "Commonwealth Sends a New Kennedy to Washington," WGBH News, November 7, 2012.
Guest on WGBH Television and 89.7 NPR Simulcast, November 6, 2012.
Guest on The Russian Armed Forces Broadcasting Company’s ZVEZDA Television, November 5, 2012.
Opinion: "‘Now or Later’: A Political Drama," Erin O'Brien (with Michael Goldman), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, October 24, 2012.
Opinion: "Romney 1, Obama 0: Reactions to Wednesday’s Debate," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, October 4, 2012.


"You Got It, So When Do You Flaunt It?: Building Rapport, Intersectionality, and the Strategic Deployment of Gender in the Field" (with Julie Mazzei). Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 38, no. 3 (2009).

Illustrates how establishing rapport in the field is key to successful data-collection. Explores the role identity plays in establishing rapport, looking specifically at the ways in which gender intersects with other identity components. Suggests ways in which researchers can navigate the relationships between their own intersectionality and that of informants.

"Jim Crow 2.0?: Why States Consider and Adopt Restrictive Voter Access Polices" (with Keith Bentele). Perspectives on Politics 11, no. 4 (2013): 1088-1116.
Takes a much-needed empirical approach to the issue of recently enacted or proposed voting restrictions – from requiring IDs to vote to limiting early voting periods – by using mathematical modeling to determine what predicts whether or not certain states consider or adopt these policies. Finds that strategic partisan demobilization of minority voters is a key driving factor in states’ propensity to consider or pass this type of legislation.
"Quasi-Experimental Design, Constituency, and Advancing Women’s Interests: ‘Critically’ Reexamining the Influence of Gender on Substantive Representation" (with Jason MacDonald). Political Research Quarterly 64, no. 2 (2011): 472-448.
Offers a solution to the problem of determining whether female members of congress are more responsive to women’s interests than their male colleagues, especially considering the need to separate out district effects (the legislation a member’s district demands he or she deliver) from gender effects (legislation the member focuses on because of his or her gender). Employs a quasi-experimental design to find that gender does affect representation and that congresswomen are more likely to represent women’s interests when more of their congressional colleagues are women.
Diversity in Contemporary American Politics and Government (edited with David A. Dulio and John S. Klemanski) (Pearson-Longman, 2009).
Presents diversity themed pieces around each of the13 major subfields in American politics. The articles offered provide an array of ideological perspectives (conservative, liberal, progressive, etc.) and simultaneously address diversity as it relates to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, religion, and other group cleavages in each subfield of American politics and policy.
"You Got It, So When Do You Flaunt It?: Building Rapport, Intersectionality, and the Strategic Deployment of Gender in the Field" (with Julie Mazzei). Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 38, no. 3 (2009): 358-383.
Provides an intersectional assessment of gaining entry and securing rapport in qualitative field-research settings. Demonstrates how field settings deem various combinations of a researcher’s demographic group memberships relevant and how researchers can strategically utilize established scripts regarding these memberships to ethically gain the informants’ trust.
"The Politics of Identity: Solidarity Building among America’s Working Poor" (State University of New York Press, 2008).
Examines the politics of solidarity and identity among America’s working poor, utilizing almost a year of participant observation in a low-wage service job and in-depth interviews with a sample of low-wage service workers. Uncovers ways in which differentiating characteristics (race, ethnicity, immigration status) aid in developing worker solidarities and provides concrete tools for securing policy change in urban environments.
"The Double-Edged Sword of Women’s Organizing: Poverty and the Emergence of Racial and Class Differences in Women’s Political Priorities" Women & Politics 26, no. 3 (2004): 25-56.
Shows how racial and social-class differences in women’s political priorities are far from inevitable. Rather, they emerged in poverty politics precisely as the material benefits from second-wave organizing (in the 1970s) flowed disproportionately to white and/or affluent women. This is the “double-edged sword” of organizing that activists must address and women’s interests groups must consider.
"Setting the Terms of Relief: Explaining State Policy Choices in the Devolution Revolution" (with Joe Soss, Sanford Schram, and Tom Vartanian). American Journal of Political Science 45, no. 2 (2001): 378-395.
Uses the “devolution revolution of 1996” under PROWRA to test longstanding theories of welfare provision in the United States. Our most important finding is that the racial composition of state welfare rolls is the strongest predictor of which states will impose tough program rules and punishments. Findings are also significant for the number of Latinas claiming welfare.