Burns studies gender, race, political participation, public opinion, and intergovernmental relations in the American context. Her most recent book, The Private Roots of Public Action: Gender, Equality, and Political Participation, won the Victoria Schuck Award from the American Political Science Association for the best book on gender and politics. The Private Roots of Public Action is the most comprehensive study of the puzzle of unequal political participation between men and women. The book shows why, after several generations of suffrage and the women’s movement in the late 1960’s, women continue to be less politically active than men, especially less likely to seek political office or join political organizations. Through new methods, this book traces how gender differences in experiences with nonpolitical institutions, such as the family, school, workplace, etc., produce differences in the resources and skills that facilitate political participation, giving men the cumulative advantage over women. In addition, part of the solution to the problem of unequal participation lies in politics itself: where women hold visible public office, women citizens are more politically interested and active.
Burns teaches a variety of courses that include gender and race and politics, quantitative methods, research design, political participation, and urban politics. She currently serves as the Director for the Center for Political Studies. She is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.