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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.
130 Episodes
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Before we take a short summer break, Michael and Chris answer your questions about democracy in our current moment. Thank you to everyone who sent in questions; they were excellent! Some of the things we talk about in this episode include: The difference between federalism and the federal government The definition of an institution How […]
As we bring this season of Democracy Works to a close, we’re going to end in a place similar to where we began — discussing the role of political parties in American democracy. We started the season discussing the Tea Party and the Resistance with Theda Skocpol and Dana Fisher, then discussed presidential primaries with […]
This week, we are bringing you another interview that we hope will give some context to the discussions about racism and inequality that are happening in the U.S. right now. We’re  joined by Tehama Lopez Bunyasi, assistant professor at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and Candis Watts Smith, associate professor […]
As protests continue throughout the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s death, we’ve been thinking a lot about comparisons to the Civil Rights era and whether the models for demonstrations created during that era are still relevant today. As we’ve discussed on the show before, public memory is a fuzzy thing and we’re seeing […]
We are working on an episode about the social and democratic context for the protests taking place around the U.S. after George Floyd’s death; we’ll have it for you on Monday. In the meantime, we are going to share a few episodes from our archives that we hope can provide context for our current moment. […]
This is another episode that we recorded in our final days together in the office before COVID-19. However, the topic is just as relevant — if not more so — in our new reality. The topic is free speech and our guest is Stephen D. Solomon, Marjorie Deane Professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism […]
Today we’re bringing you a special episode produced by Nicole Gresen, our intern on Democracy Works during the spring 2020 semester. Nicole spoke with Bob Buckhorn, who was mayor of Tampa, Florida from 2011-2019, about the role that mayors have played during COVID-19 and how they have to put partisans allegiances aside during times of […]
These days, it can feel like some politicians are working against experts in public health and other fields when it comes to actions surrounding COVID-19. There’s always been a tension between populism and expertise, but our media landscape and strong partisan polarization are pushing that tension to its breaking point — or so it seems, […]
As if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with, the World Health Organization says we’re now in an infodemic alongside it. We’ve seen this play out as misinformation and conspiracy theories move from digital to mainstream media and cast a shadow of doubt about information coming from the government and public health experts. Our […]
COVID-19 has exposed longstanding racial and economic inequalities in American life, which is evident in the fact that communities of color are being hit the hardest by both the medical and the economic impacts of the virus. Our guest this week argues that now is the time to empower those communities to have a stake […]
This episode was recorded before COVID-19 changed everything, but many of the themes we discuss about public opinion polling and the importance of trust and facts to a democracy are perhaps more relevant now than ever before. We talked with Michael Dimock, president of the Pew Research Center, about how the organization approaches polling in […]
Democracy is very much a group activity. Inside, we come together to debate, discuss, do the work of government, and make laws. Outside, we protest and hold rallies. But much of this is not possible. Social distancing presents a tremendous challenge. In this episode from The Democracy Group podcast network, we look at the barriers […]
From Maine to California, people across the country have gathered at their state capitols over the past few weeks to protest stay at home orders issued by their governors in response to COVID-19. Protest is a hallmark of any democracy, but what happens when doing so comes with health risks? What is motivating people to […]
We are excited to collaborate with our partners in The Democracy Group podcast network to bring you a bonus episode on how COVID-19 is impacting democracy in the United States and around the world.  COVID-19 brings together several issues that have long been talked about separately — political polarization, misinformation, international cooperation, democratic norms and […]
With each passing day, the relationship between states and the federal government seems to grow more complicated. States are forming coalitions and working together to chart a path out of COVID-19, while sometimes competing with one another for resources. A lack of clear guidance from the federal government will likely lead to a fragmented return […]
The general election is going to happen in November, and candidates still need to figure out ways to get their messages out to voters. COVID-19 has changed everything about the way candidates communicate with potential voters and how they position themselves in relationship to the virus. This episode addresses the nuts and bolts of campaigning […]
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 […]
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Comments (7)

Linda Susan Erickson

Your discussion is too simplistic. The science keeps changing. Medical professionals differ. Different policy makers can look at the same data and form different policy conclusions based on other factors. So please be more balanced. Your Liberal bias is showing. 😐

May 25th
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Linda Susan Erickson

This guy is so partisan that it's sickening. How about some balance? 😐

Apr 28th
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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
Reply

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
Reply

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
Reply
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