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Democracy Works

Democracy Works

Author: Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy

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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.
103 Episodes
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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

2020-01-1300:35:13

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 […]
Next-generation democracy

Next-generation democracy

2019-12-0900:28:51

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 […]
Ranked-choice voting has been in the news a lot lately. It was adopted in New York City’s November 2019 election, used for the first time in U.S. Congressional elections last year, and will be the method by which at least a few states choose a Democratic primary candidate in 2020. But, what is it? How […]
We’ve talked about immigration several times on this show with good reason. The role that people coming to the United States play in our democracy is an important question and something states, cities, and towns across the country will continue to grapple with as demographics shift. This week’s guest offers a historical perspective that sets […]
More than 600 million people voted in India’s most recent election, but that does not mean all is well with democracy there. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP recently won re-election on a platform based on Hindu nationalism. As we’ve seen with other countries experiencing democratic erosion, the people and parties coming to power […]
Climate change is perhaps the most pressing issue of our time, but it’s so big that it can be difficult to imagine how you as an individual can make an impact — or even know how to talk about it with other people in a meaningful way. This episode offers a few creative suggestions for […]
October 21, 2019 Last week, we heard from Andrew Sullivan about the challenges facing the future of democracy in the United States and around the world. This week’s episode offers a glimpse into what can happen when a country emerges from a political crisis with stronger democratic practices in place. About 10 years ago, Ireland […]
This is one of the most pessimistic episodes we’ve done, but it’s worth hearing. Andrew Sullivan, New York magazine contributing editor, Daily Dish founder, and former editor of The New Republic, is a longtime observer of American politics who does not shy away from controversial opinions. In this episode, we discuss the tension between liberalism and democracy, […]
The case for open primaries

The case for open primaries

2019-10-0700:34:45

In about a dozen U.S. states, the only people who can vote in primary elections are those who are registered with a party. Republicans vote in the Republican primary and Democrats vote in the Democratic primary. This leaves out independents, who make up a growing share of the electorate. This week’s guest argues that’s problem […]
We bring you special episode of Democracy Works this week that’s all about impeachment. Michael Berkman takes the lead on this episode and talks with Michael Nelson, the Jeffrey L. Hyde and Sharon D. Hyde and Political Science Board of Visitors Early Career Professor in Political Science and affiliate faculty at Penn State Law. Michael and […]
Immigration is one of the most complex issues of our time in the United States and around the world. Enforcing immigration law in the U.S. involves a mix of courts and executive agencies with lots of opportunities for confusion, miscommunication, and changes in approach from administration to administration. While these things are nothing new, they […]
Today we’re bringing you a bonus episode from Out of Order, a podcast produced by the German Marshal Fund of the United States. Out of Order is a podcast about how our world was, is, and will be ordered. How do we save democracy, rule of law and global cooperation? Why do some people not […]
Larry Diamond joins us this week to talk about the threat China’s model of authoritarian capitalism poses to liberal democracy in the United States and around the world. Economics drives politics, and it’s easy to admire China’s growth while looking past things like increasing surveillance and lack of respect for norms and the rule of […]
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Comments (4)

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
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