DiscoverDemocracy Works
Democracy Works

Democracy Works

Author: Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy/The Democracy Group

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What does it mean to live in a democracy? Democracy Works seeks to answer that question by examining a different aspect of democratic life each week — from voting to criminal justice to the free press and everything in between. We interview experts who study democracy, as well as people who are out there doing the hard work of democracy day in and day out. Democracy Works is produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and WPSU Penn State, central Pennsylvania’s NPR station. Hosts Michael Berkman and Chris Beem are political science professors, and host Jenna Spinelle has more than a decade of journalism experience. We aim to rise above partisan bickering and hot takes on the news to have informed, nonpartisan, thought-provoking discussions about issues related to democracy. Democracy Works is part of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what's broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.
114 Episodes
The COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. intensified just as the 2020 Census was getting underway in earnest. As Americans fill their days with news about the new coronavirus, the Census Bureau is doing everything it can to spread the word about completing the Census online while grappling with how to do critical in-person follow […]
As COVID-19 intensifies throughout the U.S., questions about the future of the remaining primary elections and the general election in November are beginning to surface. The last thing you want are large groups of people standing in line near each other for long periods of time. At a time when seemingly everything in life has […]
As we’ve seen over the past weeks and months, democracies and authoritarian countries respond to pandemics very differently. There are balances to be struck — liberty and community, human rights and disease mitigation — that every country’s government and culture handle a little differently. We dive into that this week with our first ever all-remote […]
We know that there are a lot of episodes about COVID-19 out there right now. We’re working on one of our own that we hope to bring to you soon, but in the meantime, consider something different to focus on while you practice social distancing this week. We’ve talked a lot on this show about […]
It’s spring break at Penn State this week and we’re going to take a brief hiatus to bring you an episode from a new podcast that’s part of The Democracy Group, our new podcast network. Swamp Stories is produced by Issue One, a group that takes a cross partisan approach to democracy reform. The podcast follows […]
Super Tuesday is this week, but voters in many states have already cast their ballots for races happening this week and throughout the rest of the primary season. From Florida to Pennsylvania, states are expanding access to early and absentee voting to give people more options to make their voices heard in our democracy. Sounds […]
As the South Carolina primary approaches, all eyes are on the African American vote. This week, Michael Berkman is taking over the interviewer’s chair for a roundtable discussion on black politics with Ray Block and Candis Watts Smith, who are associate professors of African American studies and political science at Penn State. Ray is the […]
Some of the most talked-about issues in Congress these days are not about the substance of policies or bills being debated on the floor. Instead, the focus is on the partisan conflict between the parties and the endless debate about whether individual members of Congress will break with party ranks on any particular vote. This […]
Elections are the bedrock of any democracy. Without confidence in the process or the results, confidence in democracy itself is vulnerable. With the primary season underway and the general election just a few months away, conversations about election security are starting to enter the public conscience. We saw this firsthand in Iowa last week as […]
The 2020 primary season officially begins today with the Iowa caucuses, followed by the New Hampshire primary on February 11 and Nevada and South Carolina later this month. It’s easy to forget that the primaries have not looked like they do now. In fact, it was not until 1968 that things really began to morph […]
The Women’s March 2020 was held in cities across the country on January 18. What began as a conversation on social media has evolved into a network of groups and organizations that are united in opposition to the Trump administration. From 2017-2019, Dana Fisher and her research team interviewed participants at Washington, D.C. protests, including […]
Since 2008, the Tea Party and the Resistance have caused some major shake-ups for the Republican and Democratic parties. The changes fall outside the scope of traditional party politics, and outside the realm of traditional social science research. To better understand what’s going on Theda Skocpol, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Strategy […]
A 2020 preview

A 2020 preview


This week, we begin a new year and a new season with a look ahead what 2020 will mean for democracy in the United States and around the world. We know that there will be a Census and an election, but will they be carried out in a democratic way? The escalating conflict with Iran […]
Happy New Year! Our winter break continues with a rebroadcast from fall 2018 with Lara Putnam on grassroots organizing in suburban America. This episode was recorded before the  2018 midterms, but many of the trends we discuss bore out in the election. Putnam is a Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University […]
While we enjoy a holiday break, we are rebroadcasting an episode with E.J. Dionne that was recorded in March 2019. The McCourtney Institute for Democracy brought Dionne to Penn State for a talk on “protecting free expression and making America empathetic again.” After spending some with him, it’s clear that he walks the walk when […]
As we enter the holiday season, Robert Talisse thinks it’s a good idea to take a break from politics. In fact, he might go so far as to say democracy is better off if you do. Talisse is the W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of a new book called Overdoing […]
Earlier this fall, our own Chris Beem traveled to Notre Dame to appear on With a Side of Knowledge, a podcast produced by the university’s Office of the Provost. The show is recorded over brunch, and this happened to the last meal served at campus institution Sorin’s. Bacon and eggs aside, Chris talks with host Ted […]
One of the things we heard in our listener survey (which there’s still time to take, by the way) is that we should have more young people on the show as guests. It was a great suggestion and, after having this conversation, we’re so glad to have received it. Joining us this week is Kyle […]
Hedrick Smith is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of bestselling books The Russians, Who Stole the American Dream? and many others. Over the course of his nearly 60 years in journalism, he’s interviewed some of the biggest politicians and power brokers on the national and international stage. Now, his reporter’s curiosity has led him to places like […]
This week’s episode is a conversation between Michael Berkman, Chris Beem, and Michael Baranowski of The Politics Guys, a podcast that looks at political issues in the news through a bipartisan, academic lens. Baranowski is an associate professor of political science at Northern Kentucky University. His focus is American political institutions, public policy, and media […]
Comments (5)

Linda Susan Erickson

So let me get this straight: I am supposed to stay at home, but our borders should be open to foreign travelers? Ridiculous!

Mar 25th

Linda Susan Erickson

It would really help if the podcast wasn't so partisan!

Jan 14th
Reply (1)

Jenna Spinelle

Hi Linda, Apologies for not seeing this sooner. Agree 100 percent about presenting multiple sides of an issue. Was there a particular episode or issue you were referring to?

Oct 1st

Linda Susan Erickson

It sure would be nice if you also presented the other side of this issue. Democracy works best when people are educated about both sides of an issue.

Sep 24th
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