Welcome! I am an Assistant Professor in the NYU Department of Politics. During the 2020-21 academic year, I will be a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. I study representation, accountability, and public service provision in state and local governments in the U.S. My research has appeared in outlets such as The Journal of Politics and The American Political Science Review and has received support from the National Science Foundation and the Stanford Institute for Research in the Social Sciences

I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford in 2017, where I was an Affiliated Researcher at the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Thomas D. Dee II Graduate Fellow for 2016-17. In my free time, I enjoy running, practicing piano, and scuba diving.


Book Manuscript

When Cities Lobby: How Local Interests Shape State Politics 

Winner of the Christopher Z. Mooney Best Dissertation in State Politics and Policy (2018)

(Under Contract with Oxford University Press)

When Cities Lobby tells the story of what happens when city officials rely on professional lobbyists to represent their interests in state government. The ability to lobby can be a powerful tool for city leaders seeking to amplify local voices in state politics, and many of the most active city lobbyists are large urban centers that have historically been underrepresented in our federal system. But high-income places have also figured out how to strategically use lobbyists---and these communities have become particularly adept at lobbying to secure additional grant money and shift state funding in a direction that favors them. How did we end up with a system where political officials in different levels of government often choose to pay private lobbyists to facilitate communication between them, and are the potential benefits worth the costs? When Cities Lobby demonstrates that the answer is deeply rooted in both the nature of the federal system and the evolution of the lobbying industry. And while some states have recently debated measures to restrict lobbying by local governments, these efforts will likely do more harm than good in the absence of substantial reform to the lobbying industry more generally.


What Makes A Good Local Leader? Evidence From U.S. Mayors and City ManagersWith Maria Carreri. Forthcoming, Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy.

Abstract: What are the traits of a good local leader? While most studies of local officials focus on the mayors of large cities, 85% of municipalities in the U.S. have a population of less than 20,000.  We conduct in-depth phone interviews with nearly 300 mayors and city managers from predominantly small and mid-sized cities in the U.S. to learn about their backgrounds. We focus on two standard ability measures (education and prior occupation) and draw from research in public administration and economics to introduce two new dimensions of quality: public service motivation and managerial skill. We paint a comprehensive descriptive portrait of the respondents in our sample and the cities they represent, and we then examine whether these traits matter for the policy goals that local leaders choose to focus on during their time in office. These results offer a promising new approach for researchers studying political leadership and its consequences, both in the local context and beyond.  

The Partisan Logic of City Mobilization: Evidence From State Lobbying Disclosures (2020) American Political Science Review 114(3).

Abstract: Why do local governments sometimes hire lobbyists to represent them in other levels of government? I argue that such mobilization efforts depend in part on the policy congruence between localities and their elected delegates in the legislature. I provide evidence consistent with this theory by examining how municipal governments in the U.S. respond to partisan and ideological mismatches with their state legislators---a common representational challenge. Using almost a decade of original panel data on municipal lobbying in all 50 states, I employ difference-in-differences and a regression discontinuity design to demonstrate that cities are significantly more likely to hire lobbyists when their districts elect non co-partisan state representatives. The results are broadly consistent with a model of intergovernmental mobilization in which local officials purchase advocacy to compensate for the preference gaps that sometimes emerge in multilevel government.

(Replication code and data here)

Cities in the Statehouse: How Local Governments Use Lobbyists to Secure State Funding. (2020) Journal of Politics 82(2). 

Abstract: What happens when local governments hire lobbyists? Although intergovernmental lobbying is common in the U.S. and other federal systems, we know little about its consequences. Using newly compiled data on state-level lobbying across the country, I establish a positive association between city lobbying and state funding. I then introduce over a decade of panel data on municipal lobbying in California to estimate the returns to lobbying for cities with a difference-in-differences design. I show that lobbying increases state transfers to cities by around 8%. But the benefits of intergovernmental lobbying are not equally distributed. I find that cities with higher levels of own-source revenue per capita net more state money when they hire lobbyists, despite enjoying a local revenue advantage. These results offer some of the first empirical evidence that city officials can influence state spending by lobbying---but this behavior may also perpetuate local economic inequality.

(Replication code and data here)

When Are Local Incumbents Held Accountable for Government Performance? Evidence from U.S. School Districts. (2017) Legislative Studies Quarterly 42(3).

Abstract: Do voters hold local officials accountable for government performance? Using over a decade of panel data on school district elections and academic achievement in California, I causally identify the effect of test score changes on school board incumbent re-election rates and show that incumbents are more likely to win re-election when test scores improve in their districts--but only in presidential election years. This effect disappears in midterm and off-years, indicating that election timing might play an important role in facilitating local government accountability.

(Replication code and data here)

Policy Coverage: Test scores and school boards: Why election timing matters. 2017. Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard, March 22.

Working Papers

Growth At All Costs? Managerial Expertise and The Pursuit of Development Over Redistribution in U.S. Cities. With Maria Carreri. (Under Review)


Abstract: Since the Progressive Era, reformers have theorized that a technocratic approach to city management would lead to economic prosperity. But are managerially skilled leaders really better at generating local growth? If so, who benefits? We bring systematic new evidence to bear on these questions by conducting an original phone survey on the management practices of over 300 mayors and city managers across the US. Using a difference-in-differences design, we examine how changes in leadership affect within-city expenditure patterns and growth-related outcomes. We find that when managerially skilled local leaders take office, their cities increase spending on developmental policies and grow more quickly. But these technocratic leaders also reduce funding for redistributive programs, including public health. These results are consistent with classic work in urban political economy suggesting that the pursuit of growth can come at the expense of providing services for less advantaged residents.

Decomposing the Source of the Gender Gap in Legislative Committee Service: Evidence from U.S. States. With Alexander Fouirnaies and Andrew B Hall. (Under Review)


Abstract: Extensive research on gender and politics indicates that women legislators are more likely to serve on committees and sponsor bills related to so-called “women’s issues.” However, it remains unclear whether this empirical regularity is driven by district preferences, differences in legislator backgrounds, or because gendered political institutions shape and constrain the choices available to women once they are elected. We introduce expansive new data on over 25,000 U.S. state legislators and an empirical strategy to causally isolate the different channels that might explain these gendered differences in legislator behavior. After accounting for district preferences with a difference-in-differences design and for candidate backgrounds via campaign fundraising data, we find that women are still more likely to serve on women’s issues committees, although the gender gap in bill sponsorship decreases. These results shed new light on the mechanisms that lead men and women to focus on different policy areas as legislators.

Locally Controlled Minimum Wages Are No Closer to Public PreferencesWith Gabor Simonovits. 

Abstract: Does decentralizing policymaking authority to the local level lead to a closer match between public policies and citizen preferences? While this question has sparked intense theoretical debate among economists and political scientists, empirical assessment has lagged behind as researchers have generally lacked measures of disaggregated policy preferences. We study this question in the context of minimum wage laws, a salient and substantively important policy area with significant variation in the degree of local policymaking discretion. Using novel survey data and aggregation methods, we generate estimates of minimum wage preferences for all cities across the U.S. and compare these preferences to prevailing minimum wage policies. We find that minimum wages are lower than what most city residents would prefer and that this conservative bias is driven by states that have passed preemption laws. However, local minimum wage ordinances also display substantial degrees of policy bias and are higher than what residents want, on average. Finally, we consider how various counterfactual policies might improve representation and find that a top-down approach with local minimum wages tailored to local conditions would produce the closest match between preferences and policies. 

Using Social Media Data to Reveal Patterns of Policy Engagement in State Legislatures. With Andreu Casas, Jonathan Nagler, Richard Bonneau, and Joshua A. Tucker. (Under Review)


Abstract: State governments are the focus of important policy decisions in the United States. How do state legislators use their public communications ---particularly social media---to engage with policy debates? Due to previous data limitations, we lack even basic information about whether and how state legislators publicly discuss policy and how this behavior varies across states and legislators. We introduce and validate a method to measure state legislator policy priorities using Twitter data and state-of-the-art topic modeling techniques and apply the method to fifteen U.S. states in 2018. We present surprising findings that speak to debates in the literature. For example, state legislators in competitive districts are more likely to discuss policy than those in less competitive districts, and legislators from more professional legislatures discuss policy at similar rates to those in less professional legislatures. We conclude by discussing promising avenues for future state politics research using this new approach.

Who Influences the Public Agenda in State Politics? Evidence From 45 Million Twitter MessagesWith Andreu Casas, Oscar Stuhler, Jonathan Nagler, Richard Bonneau, and Joshua A. Tucker. 

Abstract: In the United States, state governments make critical policy decisions on issues ranging from public health and welfare to education. However, due to data and methodological limitations, relevant theoretical questions regarding the agenda setting process in the U.S. states remain unanswered. Do state lawmakers primarily focus their attention on issues being discussed by their constituents, by national actors, or by the media—and do the policy debates in state politics influence the public communications of these other groups? In this paper, we use 45 million Twitter messages sent by state legislators and other state and national actors and employ state of the art topic modeling and time series techniques to study the policy issues that state legislators emphasize in their public communications. In line with theory emphasizing the growing nationalization of politics, we find that national policy debates often influence the expressed agenda of state legislators in a top-down fashion, even on issues that are typically managed by state governments. But we also find that state legislators are responsive both to the general public and to regional media outlets, and that the public communications of state lawmakers in turn influence the issue attention of these actors. The results paint a mixed picture of issue representation in state legislatures, suggesting that state representatives are generally responsive to the public but constrained by the national agenda.


You can view and download my CV here.


julia [dot] payson [at] nyu [dot] edu

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