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Welcome! I am an Assistant Professor in the UCLA Department of Political Science. During the 2020-21 academic year, I was a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. I study representation, political institutions, and public policy 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. My book When Cities Lobby (Oxford University Press, 2022) documents how local officials use lobbyists to compete for power in a political environment characterized by intense urban-rural polarization and growing hostility between cities and state legislatures.

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.

Julia Payson NYU

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.

Available from Amazon and Oxford University Press

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

Replication code and data here

Interviews and Media Coverage 

Why Cities Lobby. Can they afford not to? The Amazing Cities and Towns Podcast, August 7, 2023.

A big chunk of lobbying in Mass. is not tracked. Common Wealth Magazine, May 6, 2023.

The infrastructure lobbying frenzy is just getting started. Politico, November 6, 2022.

As Washington opened the money spigots, Minnesota towns hired D.C. lobbyists. MinnPost, June 21, 2022.

Cities regularly hire lobbyists. It pays off for the richest cities. The Monkey Cage (Washington Post ) April 1, 2022.

Why Are Cities Hiring Lobbyists? Not Another Politics Podcast, March 30, 2022.

Book Reviews

Choice, 2023.

Local Government Studies, 2023.

Publius, 2022.

Perspectives on Politics, 2022.



Published and Forthcoming Articles

Residency Blues: The Unintended Consequences of Police Residency RequirementsWith Srinivas Parinandi (Forthcoming at Journal of Politics).

Do residency requirements change bureaucratic performance? We study the case of municipal police departments. While residency rules were popular in the 1970s, many cities and states abolished these policies in the 1990s and early 2000s. Drawing from an original survey and local archival sources, we hand collect data on the police residency laws of nearly 800 of the largest municipalities in the U.S. over the past three decades. We then test competing theoretical predictions about how these rules impact the racial composition of city police forces and the probability of fatal police-civilian encounters. Using a two-way fixed effects design, we find that residency requirements modestly improve police diversity, but fatal encounters are actually more likely when residency requirements are in place. This study provides the most credible evidence to date that residency rules do little to improve police performance and may not offer a particularly fruitful avenue for reform.

Local Leaders and the Pursuit of Growth in U.S. Cities: The Role of Managerial Skill. With Maria Carreri. (2024) Political Science Research and Methods 12(1).

The question of whether and how city leaders matter for local outcomes remains an open empirical debate. We contribute to this research agenda by studying the effects of managerial skill---a dimension of leadership that has received little attention due to measurement challenges. We conduct an original phone survey on the management practices of over 300 mayors and city managers across the U.S. Using a difference-in-differences design that holds fixed a rich battery of individual and city-level characteristics, we examine how changes in leadership affect within-city demographic and financial outcomes. We find that when local leaders employ management practices associated with organizational success, their cities grow across a range of indicators. These results are strongest for the subset of leaders who mention a growth-related goal for their time in office, suggesting that managerial skill allows local leaders to more effectively achieve their objectives.

(Replication code and data here)

Locally Controlled Minimum Wages Leapfrog Public Preferences. With Gabor Simonovits. (2023) Quarterly Journal of Political Science 18(4). 

Does decentralizing policymaking authority to the local level lead to a closer match between public policies and citizen 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 U.S. cities with at least 1,000 residents and compare these preferences to actual minimum wages. We show that prevailing minimum wages are generally lower than residents prefer, and this conservative bias is most pronounced in states with preemption laws. However, locally controlled minimum wages leapfrog public preferences and are higher than residents want, on average. Finally, we consider how various counterfactual policies might improve representation and compare the conditions under which a centralized minimum wage would reduce policy bias relative to a decentralized approach.

Podcast Interview: Do Local Minimum Wages Represent Local Preferences? Not Another Politics Podcast, July 6, 2022.

(Replication code and data here)

Using Social Media Data to Reveal Patterns of Policy Engagement in State Legislatures. With Andreu Casas, Jonathan Nagler, Richard Bonneau, and Joshua A. Tucker. (2022) State Politics and Policy Quarterly 22(4): 371-395.

State governments are tasked with making 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 systematic information about whether and how state legislators publicly discuss policy and how this behavior varies across contexts. Using Twitter data and state of the art topic modeling techniques, we introduce a method to study state legislator policy priorities and apply the method to fifteen U.S. states in 2018. We show that we are able to accurately capture the policy issues discussed by state legislators with substantially more accuracy than existing methods. We then present initial findings that validate the method and 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.

(Replication code and data here)

Decomposing the Source of the Gender Gap in Legislative Committee Service: Evidence from U.S. States. With Alexander Fouirnaies and Andrew B Hall. (2023) Political Science Research and Methods 11(1): 191-197.

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.

(Replication code and data here)

What Makes A Good Local Leader? Evidence From U.S. Mayors and City Managers. With Maria Carreri. (2021) Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy 2(2): 199-225.

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.

Podcast Interview: What Makes a Skilled and Conscious Mayor? The Science of Politics podcast, November 3, 2021.

Policy Report: 2021 Survey of Municipal Management Final Report (shared with survey respondents)

The Partisan Logic of City Mobilization: Evidence From State Lobbying Disclosures. (2020) American Political Science Review 114(3): 677-690.

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)

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)

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. Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard, March 22, 2017.

Working Papers and Under Review

A Nationalized Agenda or Laboratories of Democracy? Issue Attention in State Politics. With Andreu Casas, Oscar Stuhler, Jonathan Nagler, Richard Bonneau, and Joshua A. Tucker (Invited to Revise and Resubmit at the Journal of Politics).

Who shapes the issue-attention cycle of state legislators? Although state governments make critical policy decisions, data and methodological constraints have limited researchers' ability to study state-level agenda setting. For this paper, we collect nearly 105 million Twitter messages sent by state and national actors in 2018 and 2021. We then employ supervised topic modeling and time series techniques to study how the issue attention of state lawmakers evolves vis-à-vis their constituents, members of Congress, and state and national media outlets. We find that federal policy debates strongly influence the public agenda of state legislators on state and federal issues alike. However, we also find that state legislators both lead and are responsive to shifts in attention by partisan members of the public and to regional media outlets, indicating that states can sometimes act as "laboratories of democracy" for policy discourse.

How did Progressive era reforms affect the lives of residents in U.S. cities? Some scholars argue that racist and nativist impulses permeated this movement, which primarily benefited white business owners, while others emphasize that reformers aimed to improve urban living and working conditions and expand educational access. We study the effects of this movement leveraging deanonymized census records, voter turnout data, newly digitized municipal budgets, and reform adoption dates across 455 U.S. cities from 1900 to 1940. Using a difference-in-differences design, we document the impact of Progressive reform on political participation, public goods spending, and the relative socioeconomic well-being of black, immigrant, and working-class residents compared to whites, natives, and business elites. We find that voter turnout decreased in reformed cities, but earnings inequality increased only modestly, with no significant differences in expenditure patterns, suggesting the impacts of these reforms were concentrated in the political rather than the economic sphere.

In Progress

Local Taxes and Economic Voting: Evidence from City Ballot Measures 

Do voters punish local politicians for raising taxes? In California, proposed tax increases must be approved via local ballot measures. Despite the fact that voters themselves are responsible for tax increases, incumbent politicians might still pay a price if voters aren't happy with how city officials spend the new revenue or if voters mistakenly blame them for the tax hike. Using a regression discontinuity design that exploits the narrow passage of local tax initiatives, I find that incumbents don’t generally suffer a penalty when voters raise taxes, with the notable exception of business taxes. I uncover suggestive evidence of a mechanism: with most types of increases, cities do not actually generate more revenue from taxes in subsequent years, suggesting that politicians might strategically be adjusting their revenue generating activities to avoid alienating voters. But after new business taxes are passed, cities do raise significantly more revenue over the next four years, and incumbents subsequently suffer an electoral penalty the next time they run for office. This research adds to a growing body of literature that studies "attribution errors" in economic voting and also suggests that cities might be even more fiscally constrained than previous literature assumes if newly authorized taxes generally fail to increase overall revenues.

Spending Constraints: Why City Discretionary Funding Doesn't Reach Needy Neighborhoods

Theories of distributive politics often focus on electoral targeting. The dynamics of distribution may operate differently in cities that skew heavily towards one party and where local races are largely non-competitive. I argue that simple eligibility criteria and path dependence may play an important and largely understudied role in shaping the distribution of urban funding. I study the case of New York City discretionary expenditures by council members. After geocoding the addresses of over 70,000 grant recipient organizations between 2014 and 2022, I use voter file data and precinct-level election returns to construct granular demographic and political profiles of over 4,000 neighborhoods across each city council district. I find no evidence that voter turnout or incumbent vote share shape the distribution of funds, but I do find that discretionary grants accrue disproportionately to wealthier and whiter neighborhoods. However, this pattern can largely be explained by the fact that the non-profits eligible to receive the discretionary funding tend to be located in these neighborhoods. These findings illustrate the difficulty in designing equitable transfer systems even when electoral considerations are not paramount. Instead, the combination of existing spatial inequality and path dependence can constrain the ability of elected officials to target needy areas.


You can view and download my CV here.

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