Locally Controlled Minimum Wages Are No Closer to Public Preferences

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Does decentralizing policymaking authority lead to a closer match between public policies and citizen preferences? We study this question in the context of U.S. minimum wage laws. Using novel survey data and aggregation methods, we generate estimates of minimum wage preferences for all U.S. cities and compare them to actual minimum wages. We find that prevailing minimum wages are generally lower than residents prefer, and this conservative bias is most pronounced in states with pre-emption 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 conclude that a top-down approach with minimum wages tailored to local conditions would produce the closest match between preferences and policies.