Democracy Works examines what it means to live in a democracy. The show is produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and WPSU Penn State, central Pennsylvania’s NPR station. We started the podcast in March 2018 after noticing a gap in the marketplace for podcasts that talked about democracy and related issues in a nonpartisan, educational way.
The name comes from Pennsylvania’s long tradition of iron and steel works — people coming together to build things greater than the sum of their parts. We believe that democracy is the same way. Each of us has a role to play in building and sustaining a healthy democracy and our show is all about helping people understand what that looks like.
Democracy Works receives more than 9,000 downloads per month and has been heard in all 50 states and 131 countries. Previous guests include How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt, What Is Democracy? director Astra Taylor, and The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, as well as experts on democracy from colleges and universities around the world.
Episode Schedule and Format
A new episode of Democracy Works is released every Monday. Each episode features an interview with someone who studies democracy or is actively working to help make it better. Interviews are bookended by analysis framing the issue and its relationship to democracy.
Most episodes are 30-40 minutes in length and are accompanied by discussion and reflection questions intended to spark discussion and/or critical thinking about the episode’s content. The website also contains an abbreviated transcript for each episode.
These episodes provide a good feel for what Democracy Works is about and how we approach the show:
- Demagogues are more common than you think
- Immigration, refugees, and the politics of displacement
- Citizenship, patriotism and democracy in the classroom
- David Frum on developing the habits of democracy
- Jonathan Haidt on the psychology of democracy
Reviews and Listener Feedback
Democracy Works won a 2018 People’s Choice Podcast Award in the Government and Organizations category. To date, we have received 25 five-star reviews in iTunes. Listeners’ comments praise our guests, nonpartisan approach, and production quality.
In addition to those reviews, we’ve heard from listeners around the world who reached out to say thank you for producing an educational podcast about democracy in trying political times.
It has become one of my favorite podcasts because it helps soothe my worries for our democracy by creating the feeling that we are making progress toward understanding what’s going wrong, building the necessary bridges, and making the necessary repairs.
— Bonnie Dixon; Winters California
I teach Peace & Conflict Studies and prompted by my students and in light of the sure to be contentious political season, I have begun a dedicated research of the conception, history, practice and suppression of democracy. This podcast is a welcome mapping of many of the current discourses surrounding democracy. I enjoy listening and sharing it with my students.— Michael Benton; Lexington, Kentucky
This podcast provides an understanding of how history looks at the success and failures of democratic governing practices and what may be the correct answers for civilizations going forward.
— Liz Grosh; Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania
Democracy Works fits nicely into the nonpartisan spectrum. Created by faculty members at the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University, Democracy Works talks with guest all over the political landscape and spectrum. Their unique position associated with a university gives them a certain credibility and additional resources many other podcasts aren’t afforded. Between the caliber of guests who join them — best-selling authors, professors, media pundits, and more — their conversation is informational, and more importantly, thought-provoking.
— Kevin Goldberg, Discover Pods
The podcast points out that we often hear about how democracy is failing today, but how does it actually work? The McCourtney Institute for Democracy examines democracy from multiple angles, saying they are “partisan for democracy” and that they don’t take sides on the political spectrum.
Smart Talk, WITF
Democracy Works Team
Michael Berkman, Host
Michael Berkman (Ph.D., Indiana University) is a professor in the Department of Political Science and the director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. Berkman’s research focuses on American politics, particularly American state politics and policy. His most recent research, funded by the National Science Foundation, focuses on state Transitional Aid to Needy Families (TANF) programs. Along with Eric Plutzer, Berkman has published two books on state education policy: Evolution, Creationism and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms (Cambridge University Press) and Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America’s School Districts (Georgetown University Press).
Christopher Beem, Host
Christopher Beem (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is managing director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. He is the author or co-editor of five books, including The Necessity of Politics (University of Chicago Press). His latest book, Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience and America’s Political Crisis (Lexington Books, 2015) argues that democracy requires a specific kind of humility to counter our natural inclination to self-delusion and self-righteousness. Before joining the Institute, Beem directed the Democracy and Community Program at the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread Conference Center.
Jenna Spinelle, Host/Producer
Jenna Spinelle is the Communications Specialist for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy. She is responsible for shaping all of the institute’s external communication, including website content, social media, multimedia, and media outreach. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Penn State and is an instructor in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. Prior to joining the McCourtney Institute, Spinelle helped market Penn State to prospective students and families in the University’s Undergraduate Admissions Office.
Where to Find Democracy Works
Democracy Works is available at democracyworkspodcast.com and in the following podcast apps:
High-resolutions of all images on this page are available here.