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 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 Manuscript

When Cities Lobby: How Local Interests Shape State Politics

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

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.


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

Running Government Like A Business? How Management 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 municipal governments would operate more cost-effectively if they were modeled after businesses. But who benefits when city leaders employ a corporate approach to management? To answer this question, we 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 changes in leadership affect within-city expenditure patterns. We find that when local leaders employ management practices associated with success in the corporate world, their cities reduce funding for redistributive programs— particularly public health—and modestly increase spending on developmental policies. These results are consistent with classic work in urban economics suggesting that the efficient pursuit of growth can sometimes come at the expense of providing services for less advantaged residents.

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


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.

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. 

How Twitter Data Reveal Patterns of Policy Engagement in State Legislatures. With Andreu Casas, Jonathan Nagler, Richard Bonneau, and Joshua A. Tucker.


Abstract: Amidst growing polarization and gridlock at the national level, state governments are increasingly the locus of many important policy decisions in the United States. How do state legislators use their public communications—and particularly social media— to engage with policy debates? Due to previous data limitations, we lack even basic descriptive information about whether and how state legislators use social media, if they discuss policy on these platforms, and how this behavior varies across states. Here, we take advantage of the fact that many state legislators are on Twitter, making it possible to document new patterns of subnational elite behavior in public communications. We present several novel descriptive facts about state legislator engagement on Twitter, and then introduce a method to measure state legislator policy priorities using state- of-the-art topic modeling techniques. We apply these methods to fifteen U.S. states in 2018, predicting when and how legislators publicly engage with policy issues and discuss promising avenues for future research in the state politics literature using this new method.

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.

Can Political Selection Exacerbate Local Inequality? Evidence From U.S. Mayors and City ManagersWith Maria Carreri. 

Abstract: Where do effective local leaders emerge? If affluent communities are more likely to select leaders who are more adept at generating growth, it's possible that the political selection process might exacerbate patterns of local inequality across cities. We conduct in-depth interviews with nearly 300 mayors and city managers to learn about how political selection works in US cities. After establishing some descriptive facts about who these local leaders are and how they compare to politicians in other levels of government and to the general public, we focus on four traits that might tap into the idea of leader quality: education, professional background, public service motivation, and managerial competence. We find that high-income cities are more likely to select well-educated leaders from prestigious occupations, but we find no correlation between city income and managerial quality. However, using Zillow data on housing prices, we demonstrate that when high-income cities select leaders with effective management styles, they experience dramatically greater growth in home values compared to lower-income cities. These results suggest that the selection of effective local leaders may have unintended consequences if certain places tend to benefit more than others.


You can view and download my CV here.


julia [dot] payson [at] nyu [dot] edu

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