Erin O'Brien

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 to discuss Massachusetts politics on Under the Radar, Erin O'Brien (with Rob DeLeo and Jerold Duquette), April 21, 2019.
Erin O'Brien's research on Massachussetts primary discussed by Jack Sullivan and Michael Jonas, "Pressley Leads Changing of the Guard," CommonWealth, September 5, 2018.
"Is It Time to Rethink Voting In Massachusetts?," Erin O'Brien, Interview with Paris Alston, Evan Horowitz, WBUR, August 13, 2018.
"Mass Politics Profs: Primaries Far and Wide, The Difference a D.A. Makes and Ranked-Choice Voting," Erin O'Brien, Interview with Callie Crossley, Under the Radar,
Erin O'Brien's research on Massachusetts politics discussed by Mike Deehan, "Baker Wins Some, Loses Some More, In End-of-Session Dash," WGBH, August 7, 2018.
Erin O'Brien quoted by Jordan Graham, "Deval Patrick’s CNN Interview Keeps his Hand in Democratic Politics" Boston Herald, August 5, 2018.
Erin O'Brien quoted by Christian M. Wade, "Ruling in Union Case Could Cinch Campaign Spending" Gloucester Daily Times, July 6, 2018.
Erin O'Brien quoted by Dan Atkinson, "Michael Capuano Denies Push to Abolish ICE" Boston Herald, July 4, 2018.
Erin O'Brien quoted by Christian M. Wade, "Diverse Crop of Candidates Seek to Replace Tsongas" The Salem News, October 26, 2017.
Guest to discuss the electoral college on NECN, Erin O'Brien, November 15, 2016.
Erin O'Brien quoted on policy positions and re-election by Lewis Wallace, "Goldman Transcripts Show How Clinton Has Evolved" Marketplace, November 7, 2016.
"Starting in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS …Elizabeth Warren!," Erin O'Brien, WGBH News, October 19, 2016.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Clinton's lead by Jeremy C. Fox, "In Deep-Blue Massachusetts, Some Towns Like to Vote Red" The Boston Globe, October 14, 2016.
Erin O'Brien quoted on money in the presidential race by Christian M. Wade, "Bay State Raises Big Bucks for Presidential Hopefuls" Eagle-Tribune, October 9, 2016.
Erin O'Brien quoted on conspiracy theories and gender by Emily Crockett, "There's a Subtle Sexism in Asking Excessive "Questions" about Hillary Clinton's Health" Vox, September 13, 2016.
Erin O'Brien quoted on first-generation college students by Adrian Walker, "UMass Budget Hikes are Terrible News for Students" Boston Globe, July 15, 2016.
"Three Female Scholars React to Hillary Clinton’s Historic Nomination," Erin O'Brien (with Valerie Hudson and Andra Gillespie), The Conversation, June 7, 2016.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Massachusetts moderates by Eric Levenson, "Why Charlie Baker’s Anti-Trump Stance is Such Smart Politics" Boston.com, May 8, 2016.
Erin O'Brien quoted on women voter turnout by Marie Szaniszlo, "Women’s Vote Has Big Power" Boston Herald, March 2, 2016.
"Elizabeth Warren is Savvy Not to Endorse Clinton or Sanders," Erin O'Brien, The Conversation, February 29, 2016.
Guest to discuss the final Democratic debate on WGBH Boston Public Radio, Erin O'Brien, December 21, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on low voter turnout by Paige Smith, "Voting in Boston Municipal Elections Remains Low" Daily Free Press, November 4, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on voter turnout in municipal elections by Spencer Buell, "As Low-Turnout Election Looms in Boston, Opportunity Knocks" Metro Boston, November 3, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on the impact of Trump's campaign on the Republican party by Chris Villani, "McCain: Trump Too Divisive, `I Don't Think He Could Win'" Boston Herald, September 12, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Vice President Biden's chances for success in a presidential bid by Chris Cassidy, "Liz Warren-Joe Biden Pairing Would Fan Dem Flames" The Boston Herald, August 26, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on the political differences between Baker and Walsh by Jack Encarnacao, "Charlie & Marty’s Big (Non-Olympic) Ideas" Boston Herald, August 3, 2015.
Guest to discuss Boston's Olympic bid on Boston Herald Radio, Erin O'Brien, July 28, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Trump angering Republicans by Lindsay Kalter, "Donald Trump Says John McCain 'Not a Hero'" Boston Herald, July 19, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on government transparency by Todd Wallack, "Mass. Agencies Often Limit Access to Records" Boston Globe, July 18, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Trump pushing the GOP candidates to extremes by Lindsay Kalter, "Donald Trump Steering GOP Field into Tough Topics" Boston Herald, July 11, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Romney's coveted donor list by Chris Cassidy, "GOP Nominees Sit in the Palms of Mitt Romney's Hands" Boston Herald, July 5, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Hillary's attemps to appeal to everyday Americans by Lindsay Kalter, "Hillary Clinton Plays to Middle Class" Boston Herald, June 14, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on voter ID laws by Sean McElwee, "Voter Supression Isn't Over" Huffington Post, May 1, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Clinton's candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination by Chris Cassidy, "Keeping Control Could be Boon or Bust for Hillary Clinton" Boston Herald, April 11, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Boston's Olympic bid by Chris Cassidy and Richard Weir, "Deval Patrick, Pals Facing an Ethical Challenge" Boston Herald, March 10, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on voter suppression by Sean McElwee, "Our Election System’s Anti-Minority Bias is Even Worse than You Think" Salon, March 1, 2015.
"Boston Olympic Bid is Bad News for Massachusetts Governor," Erin O'Brien, The Conversation, February 13, 2015.
Erin O'Brien quoted on the clash between the cost of hosting the Olympics and Baker’s long-term reform agenda by Chris Cassidy, "An Olympian Effort: Winning Bid Would Put Heat on Charlie Baker" Boston Herald, January 8, 2015.
Guest to discuss proposed raises to statewide officials on WGBH Morning Edition, Erin O'Brien, December 2, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on whether or not Baker’s bipartisan message will be reflected in his cabinet by Nicholas Handy, "Central MA Residents Poised for Positions in Baker’s Administration" Go Local Worcester, November 10, 2014.
Interview on the Baker administration Erin O'Brien, WGBH News, November 7, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on women voter turnout by Jessica Heslam, "Gender Gap Ends Up Breaking Baker’s Way" Boston Herald, November 6, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on women in state government by Nicholas Handy, "Female Candidates in MA Smash the Glass Ceiling" Go Local Worcester, November 6, 2014.
Guest to discuss young minority voter turnout and Massachusetts voting laws on WCVB City Line, Erin O'Brien, November 3, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on voter fatigue and ballot order by Noah Hoffenberg, "The ABCs of the Ballot Order Effect" Barnstable Patriot, October 31, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on Massachusetts' gubernatorial race by Shira Schoenberg, "Charlie Baker, Martha Coakley Work to Seal the Deal in Gubernatorial Campaign's Final Week" Mass Live, October 28, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on gubernatorial race by Jordan Graham, "Gubernatorial Candidates Find New Gear as Vote Nears" Boston Herald, October 27, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on gubernatorial race by Matt Stout, "Hillary Clinton Backing up Martha Coakley Today in Boston" Boston Herald, October 24, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on candidate Charlie Baker by Nicholas Handy, "Worcester’s Demographic Shift Creating Uphill Battle for Republicans" GoLocalWorcester, October 22, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on the battle between Warren Tolman and Maura Healey by Nicholas Handy, "MA Attorney General Race Deadlocked Heading toward Primary" GoLocalWorcester, September 2, 2014.
"What It Means Now that SCOTUS Has Dumped All 'Aggregate Limits'," Erin O'Brien (with Avi Green), Talking Points Memo, April 4, 2014.
"Hey Bay Staters, We're Number 42!," Erin O'Brien, Cape Cod Times, January 30, 2014.
"On Voting, Nothing to Brag About," Erin O'Brien, The Metro West Daily News, January 26, 2014.
Guest to discuss election law reform in MA and other current political issues on Boston Public Radio, Erin O'Brien, January 20, 2014.
Erin O'Brien's research on the growth of restrictive voting laws (with Keith Gunnar Bentele) discussed by Akilah Johnson, "Study Finds Half of the Country's States Passed Restrictive Voting Laws from 2006 to 2011," Boston Globe, January 7, 2014.
Guest to discuss Boston mayoral race and national politics on Boston Public Radio, Erin O'Brien, January 6, 2014.
Erin O'Brien quoted on voter identification laws (with Keith Gunnar Bentele), "Yup, Voter ID Laws Have Nothing to Do with Fraud" The Daily Beast, January 2, 2014.
Erin O'Brien's research on the targeted demobilization of minority voters discussed by Harold Pollack, "The Most Disgraceful Practice in American Politics Today," Washington Monthly, December 30, 2013.
Erin O'Brien's research on voting rights (with Keith Gunnar Bentele) discussed by "2013 A Low Point for Voting Rights," Melissa Harris-Perry, December 28, 2013.
Erin O'Brien's research on voting access (with Keith Gunnar Bentele) discussed by "Analyzing the Pattern of Voting Access," Up With Steve Kornacki, December 22, 2013.
Erin O'Brien quoted on voter identification laws (with Keith Gunnar Bentele), "Study Confirms Every Bad Thing You Suspected about Voter ID Laws" Salon, December 21, 2013.
Erin O'Brien quoted on voting restriction bill (with Keith Gunnar Bentele), "Researchers Find Factors Tied to Voting Restriction Bills are 'Basically All Racial'" Talking Points Memo, December 20, 2013.
"States with Higher Black Turnout are More Likely to Restrict Voting," Erin O'Brien (with Keith Gunnar Bentele), The Monkey Cage, December 17, 2013.
"Talking Politics," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, August 19, 2013.
"Talking Politics," Erin O'Brien (with State Senator Robert Hedlund), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, July 1, 2013.
Guest to discuss local and state politics on WGBH’s Under the Radar with Callie Crossley, Erin O'Brien, April 28, 2013.
"Where are the Female Candidates for Mayor of Boston?," Erin O'Brien, WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, April 3, 2013.
Guest to discuss conspiracy theories surrounding public assistance on Fox News 25 Boston, Erin O'Brien (with Diane McNamara), March 31, 2013.
"Politics Roundup," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo and Emily Rooney), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, March 18, 2013.
Erin O'Brien's research on public attitudes toward the sequester discussed by Akilah Johnson, "Sequestration? Few Can Explain the Latest Budget Crisis," Boston Globe, February 28, 2013.
"State of the Union Preview," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, February 12, 2013.
"John Kerry: From Senator to State," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, January 24, 2013.
"Politics as Usual," Erin O'Brien (with Michael Goldman and Marvin Venay), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, December 31, 2012.
Erin O'Brien's research on perception in politics and the power of the Kennedy name discussed by Annie Schreffler, "Commonwealth Sends a New Kennedy to Washington," WGBH News, November 7, 2012.
Guest to discuss state and national elections on WGBH Television and 89.7 NPR Simulcast, Erin O'Brien (with Warren Tolman and Elizabeth Mahoney), November 6, 2012.
Guest to discuss Mitt Romney and the election on The Russian Armed Forces Broadcasting Company’s ZVEZDA Television, Erin O'Brien, November 5, 2012.
"‘Now or Later’: A Political Drama," Erin O'Brien (with Michael Goldman), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, October 24, 2012.
"Romney 1, Obama 0: Reactions to Wednesday’s Debate," Erin O'Brien (with Charlie Chieppo), WGBH’s Boston Public Radio, October 4, 2012.


"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.
"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.
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.
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.