Welcome! I am an Assistant Professor in the NYU Department of Politics. During the 2020-201 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 Legislative Studies Quarterly, 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. Before entering graduate school, I worked as a legal analyst in Los Angeles. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa from The University of Southern California in 2010 with a major in Political Science and a minor in Piano Performance.


In my free time, I enjoy running, practicing piano, and scuba diving.


Book Project

When Cities Lobby: How Local Interests Shape State Politics

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


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)

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)

The Partisan Logic of City Mobilization: Evidence From State Lobbying Disclosures 

(Forthcoming at American Political Science Review)

AbstractWhy 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)

Working Papers

Who Benefits From Managerial Effectiveness? How Corporate Leadership Practices Shape City Policy Priorities. With Maria Carreri.


Abstract: Do the managerial practices of local leaders matter for cities and their residents? Since the Progressive Era, reformers and scholars alike have theorized that efficient management can make city government operate more smoothly and cost-effectively. But is a more corporate approach to management associated with different city policy priorities? If so, who benefits? To answer these questions, we design and conduct an original phone survey on the management practices of nearly 300 mayors and city managers across the U.S. Using a difference-in-differences design, we examine how expenditure patterns change when cities elect or appoint leaders with different managerial approaches. We find that when local leaders employ management practices associated with corporate success, their cities reduce funding for redistributive programs and modestly increase spending on developmental policies. These results are consistent with classic work in urban economics pointing to an efficiency-equity trade-off that can exist for local officials as they balance the pursuit of economic growth against providing for the needs of less advantaged residents.

The Gender Gap in Political Careers: Evidence from U.S. State Legislatures. With Alexander Fouirnaies and Andrew B Hall. (Under Review)


Abstract: How do women’s legislative careers differ from men’s? Building on research documenting gendered career differences across many contexts, we introduce new data to study the political careers of more than 25,000 U.S. state legislators. Using a series of difference-in-differences designs to account for the types of districts that elect men or women legislators, we find that women are less likely to serve on top-flight committees, are less likely to chair these committees, and are less likely to serve in leadership. Women are also more likely to serve on women’s issues committees and to sponsor legislation on women’s issues. Follow-up analyses suggest that these differences in policy focus are driven by institutional factors rather than only differences in pre-existing policy interests or backgrounds. Furthermore, while we find no differences between men and women in their productivity as legislators, women raise considerably less money than men. The challenging landscape that women legislators face inside the legislature may help to explain the well-known fact that men are more likely to seek political office than women in the United States.

The Expressed Agenda of State Legislators. With Andreu Casas, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker.


Abstract: Agenda setting is a topic of great interest to political scientists. To date, though, the vast majority of work in this area has focused on agenda setting at the national level. Sub-national units, such as US states, offer an untapped opportunity for advancing this field of research. In particular, states differ on a wide range of institutional, economic, and political dimensions, which facilitates testing hypotheses on the effects of these features on the agenda while keeping other national political factors constant. While previous research on agenda stating has eschewed state politics due to data limitations, we are now able to take advantage of the fact that most state legislators today use social media, and particularly Twitter, to discuss their issue preferences, making it easy to study the attention they pay to different policy issues across time. In this paper we use Twitter data and state-of-the-art topic modeling techniques to measure the expressed agenda of state legislators from fifteen U.S. states in 2018. We then use the data to address two questions that are crucial for our understanding of agenda setting and democratic politics more broadly; under what conditions do public representatives devote attention in their public communications to a) policy (rather than non-policy) issues, and b) particular policy issues.

In Progress

Women's Representation in Local Government and the Municipal Employee Wage Gap

Who Runs Our Cities? Documenting Local Leadership Practice in the U.S. With Maria Carreri. 

Policy Work

Test scores and school boards: Why election timing matters2017. Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard, March 22.


You can view and download my CV here.


julia [dot] payson [at] nyu [dot] edu

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