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Examining what it means to live in a democracy


University Park, PA


Examining what it means to live in a democracy






“Democracy 2024” on the debate stage

We’re back from summer break and diving into the 2024 election season, Donald Trump’s indictments, the spread of election deniers, and more. We also welcome Michael Berkman back from sabbatical and discuss the significance of “Democracy 2024” as the backdrop for the first Republican presidential debate on August 23. For our listeners who teach American […]


A deep dive on parties and political reform

Americans want electoral reforms so that they can have more choice in elections. Recent surveys show that 20 to 50 percent of Americans are open to a new electoral system, while demand for a third party has crept upward since Gallup began asking in 2003. More Americans now call themselves “independent” than identify with either […]


Is America in a third reconstruction?

Peniel E. Joseph, author of The Third Reconstruction: America’s Struggle for Racial Justice in the 21st Century, joins us this week to discuss how the era from Barack Obama’s election to George Floyd’s murder compare to the post-Civil War Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement. Joseph argues that racial reckoning that unfolded in 2020 marked […]


Living in a fragmented democracy

At the end of March, millions of Americans lost access to Medicaid as pandemic-era expansions to the program were rolled back. At the same time, North Carolina’s legislature voted to expand Medicaid, marking a demonstration of bipartisan agreement in these polarizing times. This backdrop makes it a very interesting time to talk with Jamila Michener, […]


Harnessing the power of juries

Juries have been at the center of some of the most emotionally charged moments of political life, especially in high profile cases like the trial of Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder in 2021. This week, we explore juries as a democratic institution. Our guest, Sonali Chakravarti, argues that juries provide an important site for […]


Why politics makes us depressed — and what we can do about it

Many of us can conjure moments when politics made us feel sad. But how often do those feelings translate into more serious forms of depression or other mental health issues? And if politics does make us depressed, what do we do about it? Christopher Ojeda has spent the past few years exploring these questions and […]


Separating news from noise

How much news is too much? Or not enough? News Over Noise, the new podcast from Penn State’s News Literacy Initiative explores that question and offers guidance on how to consume news that enhances your participation in our democracy without becoming overwhelmed by all the noise on social media and the 24/7 news cycle. News […]


What we learned from our guests in 2022

We’ve had some incredible guests on the show in 2022. For our final episode of the year, we’re taking a look back at what we’ve learned from them. Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, Candis Watts Smith, and Jenna Spinelle revisit our episodes with: Jake Grumbach Jeffrey Sutton Francis Fukuyama Jamelle Bouie Lilliana Mason Jon Meacham Jessica […]


The real free speech problem on campus

Across op-ed pages and Substack newsletters college campuses have become fiercely ideological spaces where students unthinkingly endorse a liberal orthodoxy and forcibly silence anyone who dares to disagree. These commentators lament the demise of free speech and academic freedom. But what is really happening on college campuses? In his new book, Campus Misinformation, Penn State […]


Jamelle Bouie makes the case for majoritarianism

Jamelle Bouie’s writing spans everything from 19th century American history to 1990s movies, but he’s spent a lot of time recently thinking about America’s founders, the Constitution, and the still-unfinished work of making America a multi-everything democracy. In that work, he’s identified a contradiction that he believes is impeding democratic progress: “Americans take for granted […]


Celebrating democracy’s small victories

Amid election deniers and political polarization, it’s easy to overlook the times when democracy is actually working. We do that this week in a hopeful conversation about resident-centered government. Elected officials and administrative staff like city planners often have the best intentions when it comes to development and redevelopment, but political and professional incentives push […]


The backbone of democracy is now the face of fraud

This episode is part of the series 2022 Midterms: What’s at Stake? series from The Democracy Group podcast network. Think of it as an election administrator vibe check as we head into the midterms. Election officials are the backbone of our democracy, but also increasingly the face of fraud allegations from far-right groups and others who […]


A deep dive into the administrative state

The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act shines a light on the administrative state. How will the billions of dollars for Medicaid, green energy, and other provisions be spent and turned into policy? With the help of people whose jobs are largely nonpartisan and non-political. Complaints about government bureaucracy are nothing new but has recently […]


Reflecting on the January 6 hearings and what’s happened since

We’re back after our summer break and catch up on what’s happened to American democracy while we were on hiatus. Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, Candis Watts Smith, and Jenna Spinelle are back after summer break to discuss the January 6 committee hearings, which we previously teased as “democracy’s summer blockbusters.” Did they live up to […]


A new approach to breaking our media silos

It’s no secret that there’s a partisan divide in the media, but thus far, solutions to bridge that divide have been few and far between. Our guest this week had an idea that seems to be taking hold and building a readership across the political spectrum. Isaac Saul is the founder and publisher of Tangle, […]


Introducing: When the People Decide

We are excited to share the first episode of a new narrative series on ballot initiatives from the McCourtney Institute for Democracy: When the People Decide. In this reported series, Jenna Spinelle tells the stories of activists, legislators, academics, and average citizens who changed their cities, states, and the country by taking important issues directly […]


Democracy’s summer blockbusters

Democracy Works is taking its annual summer hiatus starting next week, but that does not mean the wheels of democracy will stop turning while we’re away. In fact, this summer could prove to be quite the opposite. In this episode, we discuss what’s going on in the Supreme Court and the impact of the rulings […]


Baby Boomers and American gerontocracy

The Baby Boomers are the most powerful generation in American history — and they’re not going away anytime soon. Their influence in politics, media, business, and other areas of life is likely to continue for at least the next decade. What does that mean for younger generations? Generational conflict, with Millennials and Generation Z pitted […]


What student debt says about democratic institutions

Americans owe more than $1.5 trillion in student debt and some members of the Millennial and Gen Z wonder whether they’ll ever pay off their loans. Student loans began as a well-intended government program to help increase America’s brainpower in the Cold War era, but as our guest this week describes, grew into a political […]


Jon Meacham on creating a more perfect union

Jon Meacham is one of America’s leading thinkers on how the country’s political history can inform the present. He recently visited Penn State to present a lecture on his 2018 book The Soul of America and joined us for a wide-ranging conversation on the war in Ukraine (and whether Zelensky really is like Churchill), American […]