Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 18 > Issue 4

Locally Controlled Minimum Wages Leapfrog Public Preferences

Gabor Simonovits, Department of Political Science, Central European University, Austria, and Institute for Political Sciences at the Centre for Social Sciences, and Rajk College for Advanced Studies, Hungary, simonovits@ceu.edu , Julia Payson, Department of Politics, New York University, USA, julia.payson@nyu.edu
Suggested Citation
Gabor Simonovits and Julia Payson (2023), "Locally Controlled Minimum Wages Leapfrog Public Preferences", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 18: No. 4, pp 543-570. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00021133

Publication Date: 03 Oct 2023
© 2023 G. Simonovits and J. Payson
Public policy,  Representation,  Political economy
Decentralizationpublic policyrepresentationpolitical economyfederalism


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In this article:
Data and Methods 


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 US 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.