Democracy Works 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

Democracy Works


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.

Most Recent Episodes

How the Tea Party and the Resistance are upending politics

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 at Harvard and Director of the Scholars Strategy Network, convened a group of researchers to study the people and organizations and at the heart of these grassroots movements. Skocpol joins us this week to discuss their findings and the new book Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance. Her work in particular focuses on the Tea Party and includes interviews with Tea Party members across the country. We also discuss the Resistance and whether these oppositional forces to the party in power are likely to continue after November's election. Additional Information Upending American Politics from Oxford University Press Skocpol on the Scholars Strategy Network Related Episodes Grassroots organizing to "reboot" democracy Salena Zito's deep dive into Trump's America When states sue the federal government The democracy rebellion happening in states across the U.S. Episode Credits This episode was engineered by Democracy Works host Jenna Spinelle, edited by WPSU's Chris Kugler, and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy. A huge thank you to Abby Peck in Theda Skocpol's office for arranging the interview and providing technical support. Interview Highlights [6:45] How did we arrive at our current moment in American politics? Well, I was surprised in the early Obama presidency by the sudden emergence of the Tea Party and perhaps I wasn't surprised for exactly the same reason that a lot of other people were. First there were some demonstrations, but then there were hundreds of regularly meeting local groups of tea partiers and that attracted our attention because we realized that since the 1960s a lot of the organizing on the civic side in the United States had taken the form of national advocacy groups and maybe some local things, but usually not very connected into anything national. Then if you fast forward eight to 10 years later, the same thing happened when Trump was elected and in both cases these were presidents that shocked the other side, elected at the same time as Congress was controlled by their own party. And the grassroots resistance emerged even more quickly after the Trump election, which was an even bigger shock to the people on the other side. [10:01] What was it about Barack Obama's election that changed the paradigm? It's in Americans' DNA to organize when something strikes citizens as needing action and both grassroots tea partiers and the grassroots resisters, now they faced a shocking event and that event is probably very important. I think social movement scholars often don't pay attention to events. But it's a pretty shocking thing in American democracy when a president who looks like they're going to carry through radical changes is elected at the same time as a Congress of their own party. And in the case of Barack Obama, of course it was an African American. He looked like he was coming to power at a moment of economic crisis that was going to lead to sweeping changes led by Democrats, and at that moment, a lot of grassroots conservatives just said to themselves, we can't depend on the Republican Party to do anything. We don't trust the Republican Party. Who's going to do it? We're going to do it. And so they started organizing face to face. [12:15] How does today's organizing relate to older styles of civic engagement and civil society? In the Tea Party it was more men and women often married couples together, but women were more present than you might think and more present than you would think for conservatives because women tend to do things and these are almost always in both sides people who've had experience organizing in their workplaces, their churches, maybe they've been part of the local political party or a local civic movement on the left or the right. And so in a way they do remember older fashioned ways of organizing and then they will usually pick up some of the new internet techniques and kind of meld them together with what they know. [16:46] Tell us about the "uneasy marriage" in the Republican party I personally write about the dual roots of Republican party extremism and they really are quite different. I mean the Koch Network and other multimillionaires and billionaires have organized since 2004 really with roots going back even further than that to try to persuade Republican Party politicians in office or running for office that they should ruthlessly pursue more and more tax cuts that benefit the very, very rich, i.e. the people who are doing the organizing and block any kind of environmental or global warming response through government, disable unions, labor unions, that's a top priority and deregulate business at all levels. The Koch network likes immigration, makes labor cheaper, but the grassroots tea parties were angry that Hispanic immigrants in particular, central Americans and Mexicans were coming in large numbers and changing the cultural composition of the society that they thought they grew up in or that they did grow up in. [21:25] How does Donald Trump benefit groups like the NRA and the Fraternal Order of Police? When Donald Trump appears before actual groups, ongoing organizations, they tend to be the gun rights groups, the NRA, the Christian right conventions or the values summit that the Christian right holds every year. Or we saw that he also visited fraternal order of police lodges where he would routinely give a speech saying those black lives matters. People are being backed by the Democrats to attack our hero policemen and I'm with you and we can be sure that they're doubling down on all of that. And that's very advantageous to Donald Trump because it gives him networks that reach into just about every community in every state that he needs to carry in the Electoral College. [23:06] How does the Resistance compare to the Tea Party? The Resistance and the Democrats face a harder set of tasks. Because the Tea Party, when it organized at the grassroots in 2009 and '10 it formed probably about a 1,500 groups spread all over the country. They didn't engage in a lot of voter registration efforts that we could observe at the time. And they didn't have to because they were older, conservative minded whites, angry at Democrats and an African American president and they sort of knew that their friends and neighbors were going to vote because old people vote in this country and conservatives vote very, very regularly and Christian evangelical conservatives really vote regularly. So it was more a matter of changing the agenda, changing the public discussion, creating a sense of urgency and fear, which a lot of people that were there surrounding them of like minded people already felt. [26:14] Will organizing against the party in power become the norm moving forward? It's very likely that if a Democrat wins the White House this time, that the Democrats will hold the house but not take the Senate. And they certainly will not take most of the state legislatures and governorships. So in that scenario, I expect the right not to stand down in any way. We'll see the same kind of fierce and unremitting opposition that Barack Obama faced. The outcome might be a little different this time because Barack Obama and many Democrats in the Congress spent three years thinking they could work out compromises with people that weren't about to compromise with them.

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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 is another unknown, but one that will no doubt have ramifications for democracy in the U.S. and abroad. We also look at how political polarization has changed since 2016 and the implications of that change on just about every aspect of our lives. From impeachment to Iran, we see that Americans are more divided than ever. It's unclear what that will mean as tensions with Iran escalate. Underlying some of this polarization is our media environment. Little about the way Americans consume news on social platforms has changed since 2016. Disinformation and fake news are already starting to spread in advance of the 2020 election. Note: You'll hear some discussion in this episode about Facebook and deepfake videos. After we recorded, Facebook announced that it would begin taking steps to remove videos that have been manipulated using artificial intelligence, making exceptions for satire, parody, and videos that have been edited solely to omit or change the order of words. Related Episodes A few of the episodes we reference in this one: Protecing democracy from foreign interference It's good to be counted Facebook is not a democracy The complicated relationship between campaign finance and democracy Will Millennials disrupt democracy? How conspiracies are damaging democracy Episode Credits This episode was recorded at the WPSU studios and engineered by Craig Johnson. The episode was edited by Mark Stitzer and reviewed by WPSU News Director Emily Reddy. Finally, don't forget to leave a rating for Democracy Works if you enjoy what you hear on the show. Visit to give us some stars in your favorite podcast app.

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Grassroots organizing to "reboot" democracy [rebroadcast]

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 of Pittsburgh and co-author with Theda Skockpol of the article "Middle America Reboots Democracy." in Democracy, a Journal of Ideas and a new book called Upending American Politics. She argues that grassroots work is happening behind the scenes in "purple" suburbs, areas that are ignored in the red state/blue state and urban/rural media narratives. Grassroots groups like those Putnam observed in western Pennsylvania are mixing traditional organizing tactics with social media to raise awareness and push for change at the local and state levels, far away from the divisions that bog down national politics. To borrow a line from the article, "If your question is how the panorama of political possibility has shifted since November 2016, your story needs to begin here." Finally, you'll hear Michael and Chris talk at the end about"giving us some stars." Over the holidays, we came across a new site that makes giving us a rating very simple. Visit to get started. Additional Information Middle America Reboots Democracy in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas Upending American Politics – a new book with two chapters by Putnam Related Episodes The "democracy rebellion" happening in states across the U.S. Salena Zito on understanding Trump's America Interview Highlights [5:28] As a history professor, how did you come to write about a political movement? Lara: After the 2016 election, I looked around at local politics to see where I could make a change. Based on the national political coverage, I expected to see high levels of energy and organization for progressive politics in the city and little in the suburbs. However, what I found was actually that I was missing the real story. What I saw in these smaller towns was people engaging again in the political process through organization. This wasn't getting covered nationally. This is where I kicked into historical gear. We know that large scale changes nationally have their roots in local developments. Therefore, it leads us to believe that these changes at the local level should be looked at as the possible motivation behind future national changes. So face to face groups which appear insignificant, can actually lead to large political changes. [8:35] What does middle America mean to you after your research? Lara: These movements are being started by women. Particularly, women who had already been involved in the political movement prior to the 2016 election. What we mean by "middle America" here is that these democrat movements are taking place not in the stereotypical coastal democrat strongholds, but rather in small rural towns in the middle of the country. [11:30] Why do you think the national media is missing this trend? Lara: The national media is really obsessed with candidates. While this does impact the spread of movements like the ones we're seeing, it doesn't completely stop them. Remember that politics is local. Most political conversations and political knowledge is shared in local conversations such as when people are running errands in town. This is how information is usually shared. The media tends to underreport this type of grass roots kitchen table politics. [13:30] Do these groups still see support from the Democratic Party? Lara: Part of the story here is that the Democratic Party changed. This is why we're seeing many of these groups being created recently. The party used to be structured in such as way that you could join it and know your fellow democrats. You had a sense that you belonged to an actual place with real people rather than simply an email list. How the party today has embraced these new organizations has varied around the country. In some places, the local party structure has embraced these new groups while in other places you're seeing more resistance to bringing them into the fold. Whether or not this osmosis process happens depends a lot on the level of maturity of these groups. What I mean by that is how organized and structured they are. When a group is very structured, it tends to more naturally fold into a larger equally as organized group. [19:25] Do you think there is room in these left leaning groups for someone who voted for Trump in 2016 but have since changed their minds? Lara: I think there are many different "middle Americas" out there. People are complicated and terms such as progressive means different things in different places. [23:31] How are these groups communicating and utilizing technology to advance their causes? Lara: Some groups have become hybrids of older and newer models in that they're utilizing both face to face as well as technological forms of communications. For example, groups will often have several facebook pages. One will be public where as the other will be private. This private page has sort of become the 21st century face to face conversation.

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E.J. Dionne on making America empathetic again [rebroadcast]

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 it comes to empathy. Dionne has the unique perspective of studying the horse race and the big picture of American politics. He writes a twice-weekly column for the Washington Post and appears regularly on NPR, but he's also a senior fellow at Brookings and professor in Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University. We talked with him about the relationship between partisan politics and democracy, the need for empathy across the political spectrum, and a few policy ideas to help make America more democratic. We could have talked all day and hope to return to some of these topics in future episodes. Additional Information Dionne's Washington Post columns Dionne's lecture at Penn State Dionne's paper on universal voting for Brookings Chris Beem's TED talk on how young people can improve democracy Interview Highlights [3:52] In One Nation After Trump, you wrote that a partisan response was required to protect democratic values. What did you mean by that? Trump had done something to our politics that was very dangerous and needed to be reversed, and given that the Republican Party had chosen almost to a person (with a couple of exceptions in Congress) to support Trump, the only way to hit back, to create any sense of accountability, was to give at least one house of Congress to Democrats. There a lot of people out there who aren't necessarily partisan Democrats, who aren't necessarily liberals or lefties, who believe that there are abuses here that need to be checked, and that there is a threat to democracy that needs to be reversed, and that's exactly what happened after the 2018 midterms. [5:19] Should that approach continue heading into 2020? My view is that the Republican party has moved to a point where it needs a real rebuke in order to look inside itself and analyze where they want to continue to be. [6:54] ]What happens to the people who are conservative but don't may be aligned with where the Republican party is currently? I think there are still a lot of conservatives who made a deal that they think is still worth making on behalf of low taxes deregulation and Supreme Court appointments. There is a pattern in which some districts that 30 or 40 years ago would happily have sent a moderate Republican to the house are now sending Democrats. [11:00] You've also called for making America empathetic again. Have you seen any indication that it's happening? Yes, I have seen it in the reactions of the people when the Muslin ban. The number of people who rush to the airports over the Muslim ban and people who may not have met a Muslim in their life and said "wait a minute, this isn't who we are." There is also the reaction of the people to the kids being taken away from their parents at the border. I think we've taken some steps forward, but we still have a lot of work to do. [12:51] What can people do to develop a sense of empathy? Chris Beem gave a TED talk in which he said we need people to do three things. First, people need to tell the truth. Second, they need to engage in democratic humility, and third, people need to join an organization. I think one of the terrible things about the Trump age is that the division is so deep that friends who disagree about politics don't even talk about politics anymore because they're afraid of busting the friendship, and that's a problem. [14:54] Why do you think it's so hard for people to have constructive arguments? I think some of it is that our allegiances are all aligned together in a package. So people's political commitment and people's party commitments are aligned with their ideological commitments or often aligned with their religious commitments that includes people who are religious or secular combined with where they live. The "big sort" argument and many things combined in one party has come to stand for it. [16:00] How we can make civil society work given the world we live in today? I think we people need ways in which they can get together face-to-face and do things together. Sports teams are part of that, by the way. There is enormous life in civil society when where kids sports are concerned about it. What I want to tell to my conservative friends is: I'm with you, I want a stronger cvil society, but you have to acknowledge the cost of inequality and the cost of economic collapse. [19:08] Can you give us an overview of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact? We have a problem in our country that's going to keep growing with the Electoral College. Since 2000, we've had just two elections where the Electoral College went against the popular vote. The way in which population is getting concentrated in big states, the over-representation of low population states in the Electoral College will get even greater. This is a problem for democracy and you can't change it very easily under the Constitution. [22:26] You've also worked on what you describe as universal voting. Can you explain what that is and how it might work? This idea comes from Australia. Australia has compulsory attendance at the polls, but not the United States. I'm working on an initiative with Miles Rapoport at the Ash Center at Harvard on this. We're trying to see what would this look like If we did it in the United States. Our theory is if you can ask people to serve on juries, if you can ask people for going to say to potentially give their lives in war, then asking people to vote is not an over ask for civic life. It finally reverses the role of local officials. They can't suppress the vote anymore. Their job is to help make it as easy as possible for all the people in the country to vote.

Is it possible to overdo democracy?

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 Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics in Its Place. The book combines philosophical analysis with real-world examples to examine the infiltration of politics into all social spaces, and the phenomenon of political polarization. In the middle of an impeachment inquiry and with a presidential election looming on the horizon, this might seem like precisely the wrong time to try to balance your political engagement with other things. But Talisse argues developing that sense of "civic friendship" through a sports league, book club, cooking class, or just about any other type of activity that's not political, can help you see past the partisan identity that's so prevalent these days. If you're looking for a New Year's resolution, this episode might be a good place to start. We also discuss deliberative democracy and efforts to bring people from across the political spectrum together to find that sense of common ground. This is our last new episode for 2019. We are going to do a few weeks of rebroadcasts and return in mid-January with a look ahead at what 2020 will have in store for democracy — we have a feeling there will be no shortage of things to discuss. Listener Survey As we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020. Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug. We've already sent one batch of mugs to our listeners around the country and will do another one after the holidays. Additional Information Overdoing Democracy: Why We Must Put Politics in Its Place Talisse's TED talk on putting politics in its place Talisse's website Related Episodes Unpacking political polarization The closing gap between business and politics Is it time to revive civility? Interview Highlights [7:17] In the book, you seem to use politics and democracy interchangeably. How do you define each term? I think of democracy as a series of institutional, procedural, constitutional norms that are all underwritten by a more fundamental moral principal. That is, I think that democracy is, at its core, the moral proposition that a relatively stable and relatively just social order is possible in the absence of rulers, and bosses, and kings, and the like. Democracy is also a broader social ideal. It's the ideal of living together as equals in a political and social context, and what I think that means is that democracy is a moral solution, or proposes a moral solution, to a problem. The problem that democracy proposes a solution to is the problem of severe, sometimes heated, disagreement about politics. [9:55] How did you arrive at the notion of "overdoing" democracy? I think democracy is a capital social good. However and because it's a capital social good, we in our roles as democratic citizens have to do some hard work. Democracy requires a lot of us. It's a demanding social ideal. Don't want to deny any of that. What I want to push back on the idea that the best strategy that we have for pursuing those lofty social ideals by means of democracy is to perpetually be enacting democracy, perpetually be acting in the role of democratic citizen. I think that if we want to perform well as democratic citizens, and do well by or do right by our goals, our moral goals for a better society, we have to find or as the case may be try to construct venues where we can interact with one another in contexts where our politics is simply beside the point. [17:46 ] How has politics become a bigger part of our identities? As the country at the macro level has become more diverse, the local spaces we inhabit in our walkabout daily activities have become increasingly homogenous, so in the aggregate it's a more diverse country, but in our day to day social environment, the atmosphere within which casual, non-planned social interactions occur, this has all become increasingly homogenous and politically homogenous, such that the person sitting next to you on the bus, the person standing behind you on line in the grocery store or in the coffee shop, is increasingly likely to have a political profile that's just like your own. 25 years ago, workplaces, schools, local parks, beaches, these sort of public venues, these places where people would get together were far more politically heterogeneous than they are today. [25:49 ] What do you make of efforts to bring people from opposing political perspectives together for dialogue and deliberation? I count myself as a democratic theorist, as a deliberate democrat, so I'm on board with deliberative democracy as a theoretical approach to thinking about democratic legitimacy and political authority, and also to thinking about good democratic practice, so I'm sort of an omnivorous kind of deliberative democrat. I'm on board with the project in the broadest sense, and also I've theorized it in some of its particulars in some other work. The dinner table conversations initiatives, initiatives about deliberative polling, and citizen assemblies, and citizen juries, and all the rest, those are all incredibly promising initiatives and the data that come out of those experiments and those endeavors strike me as really, really promising. I am skeptical, though, about the prospects for these kinds of interventions, which I would say are good, necessary steps towards repairing democracy. [30:24] How do you recommend people "put politics in its place?" What I think the first step is to putting politics in its place is sort of recognizing that your conception of what the people, the rank and file citizens on the other side, are like. That's the product of these phenomena. Maybe you need to recognize that. It's part of the profile of this cognitive phenomenon, belief polarization, that not only do you become a more extreme version of yourself, you start to adopt more negative attitudes towards the people who you perceive to be different from yourself, and here's the crucial part: you also start to adopt an unreasonably monolithic and un-nuanced conception of what the other side is like, and you could even hear this in pronouncements among citizens and politicians. We're lead to think that there's just one kind of person on the opposite side of the aisle that is our political rival, and that's an unduly homogenized conception of how politics works.

Chris Beem on democratic humility and virtues

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 Fox about his most recent book, Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience, and America's Political Crisis, and his current work on democratic virtues. They discuss why democracy runs counter to the way we're wired, and why it's so difficult to sustain. This episode is a cool collaboration for a few reasons: Chris is a Notre Dame alumnus — we won't tell you what year he graduated Ted Fox, the host of With a Side of Knowledge, and our own Jenna Spinelle have become podcast kindred spirits since they met earlier this year. Tracy and Ted McCourtney are generous supporters of both Penn State and Notre Dame. In many ways, this collaboration would not have been possible without them. We'll return to our normal format next week for one final episode in 2019 before taking a holiday break. Listener Survey We we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020. Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life. Additional Information With a Side of Knowledge Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience, and America's Political Crisis

Next-generation democracy

Credit: Rachel Franklin Photography/Draw the Lines PA 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 Hynes, a junior at State College Area High School and a true advocate for democracy. He is the statewide champion in the youth division of the Draw the Lines PA mapping competition and winner of the Future Leader in Social Studies from the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies. Kyle is an expert on the ins and outs of gerrymandering, but he also has interesting perspectives impeachment, political engagement among his peers, and the generational divide in American politics. We've had a lot of guests tell us that they put hope in Generation Z to solve some of the challenges we face. If Kyle is any indication, that hope is in the right place. Listener Survey We we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020. Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life. Additional Information Draw the Lines PA Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies Related Episodes One state's fight for fair maps What can Pennsylvania voters do about gerrymandering? Generation Z and the future of democracy Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom Interview Highlights [3:05] How did you become interested in redistricting? I've always been really interested in math. I've also been interested in politics for quite a while, and so I'm really interested in the areas where they intersect, where math and politics come together. I feel like gerrymandering is one of those places. Redistricting is a logistical puzzle and you try to put it together. So I've always thought this is really interesting, and then when I saw that there was a competition, you can draw your own map, see if you can do it better. I was like, "I want to try that." [3:40] Where does your interest in politics come from? Our family's really politically engaged, and my political interest kind of sparked during the 2016 primaries, where it seemed almost, especially on the Republican side, just because there were more candidates, it seemed almost like a giant game. It's like the Hunger Games, who can get to the cornucopia first? And it was like, "Is this really how we choose our politicians? Really?" And so that kind of sparked an interest for me, and then it's kind of carried through ever since. [6:00] What do your friends think about your involvement in politics? Some of my friends are interested in politics, all have a lower tolerance for politics than I do. But yeah, so sometimes there's the reaction of, "Oh Kyle, just shut up about the damn politics." But often sometimes they are interested in politics and stuff like that. On the one hand, there's some ambivalence. People think Republicans and Democrats are the same and everyone is corrupt and in it for their own ends. But there's also a bunch of people, I would say a majority even, among kids my own age who actually do care, and who are actually interested in finding solutions to problems. And I feel like to a certain extent it's less tribal, especially among high schoolers and young adults. The tribal mentality really isn't there. [8:36] What's been your experience with civics education? I took a civics class in eighth grade, which was pretty good. And then the only thing after that is the AP government class in 12th grade, so both those classes have certainly played a role. I feel like another big contributor to my civics education, my parents are both really politically minded, civically minded, and they both raised me from an early age to care about this stuff. [10:42] What was your process for creating the district map for Draw the Lines PA? I had certainly seen a lot of alternate Pennsylvania congressional maps that people had drawn saying, "Hey, I can do this better than the politicians in Harrisburg." And so I feel like I drew some from a lot of those different maps, and different attitudes towards districting. And I feel like I also kind of pulled on my math background, because I wanted to create as many districts that were competitive, for both sides, as possible, and I feel like at some point that was just a pure puzzle. It was just, how do I cobble the precincts together in such a way that you get as many 50/50 districts as you can? I wanted to use competitive districts, because in my perfect world, if we had an electoral system of my choice, it would be a proportional representation system, so that everyone could actually have a say in choosing the government. But obviously this competition didn't allow for that, you drew the districts. And so I felt like I wanted to draw a map that gave every single voter as much say as physically possible [14:20] People often put faith in younger generations to fix what's broken in politics. Are you aware of that pressure and how do you feel about it? Yeah, sometimes. I feel like the youth in any generation are always the least jaded. As people go through life, they often become more and more and more jaded. But I feel like a lot of the issues that have been prevalent in the past, and even today, there is, like I certainly hope that our generation or generations above us can take care of the issues, because somebody's got to. So I feel like on the one hand, it's a little bit of pressure like, "We're going to give it to the youth, see what they can do with it." But on the other hand, I think in the future, our generation will end up taking the reins of power, and I feel like, I hope that we can do good things with them. [15:40] What's your biggest "OK Boomer" moment when it comes to politics? I feel like it's tough to answer the question because like a lot of things, even though like almost everything, there are a lot of people in that, a lot of Boomers who agree with what I think, and a lot who don't. And a lot of people who have been doing things to advance what we need to do in a bunch of these different categories, and a bunch who don't. But I feel like of all of the issues that, I feel like older generations, like the one currently in power now in DC has failed in, and this is not a dispersion on any generation as a whole, but just the part of it that is currently in power, is climate change, because I feel like they've had a long time, and by they, I mean the caucuses in Washington, a long time to deal with this, and it hasn't been dealt with. And so I feel like that's something that's going to end up being passed down to our generation, which we're going to have to deal with. [25:53] What does democracy mean to you? People are only actually exercising democracy when they're actually making their voices heard. I feel like it goes beyond voting. Sure, the right to vote is a key part of democracy and you can't have democracy without it, but there's the right to meet with your representatives. There's the right to free speech. The right to a free press. And all of these things I feel like are so key to democracy. It's like it is rule of the people, by the people, but it's also rule of the people, rule for the people. So having a system where you can actually talk about what you want to talk about, you can make your voice heard, you can vote in situation where every single person has the same key right to vote, which is really fundamental, and where you don't have certain people blocking other people's right to vote or right to vote meaningfully.

The democracy rebellion happening in states across the U.S.

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 Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Hartford, Connecticut to report on efforts to end gerrymandering, remove money from politics, and fight corruption through grassroots organizing. Smith joins us this week to talk about what he learned from these organizers while filming his latest project, a documentary called The Democracy Rebellion: A Reporter's Notebook with Hedrick Smith that will air on PBS this January. He says that the grassroots are not nearly as polarized as politicians and political insiders, as evidenced by the fact that many of these pro-democracy ballot initiatives passed with large bipartisan majorities. Smith also reflects on the state of the media today and why grassroots movements can't seem to capture the attention that horse race politics do. It's part of the reason why he's still out there pounding the pavement as a reporter and getting out of his home in Washington, D.C. to meet people doing the hard work of democracy every day. Listener Survey We we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020. Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life. Additional Information Hedrick's website, Reclaim the American Dream Related Episodes One state's fight for fair maps Winning the "democracy lottery" The complicated relationship between campaign finance and democracy Interview Highlights [8:26] How did the story of democracy reform come onto your radar? It's a great story nobody else is covering and that's always interesting to me. I wrote a book some years ago called, Who Stole the American Dream? that was really about how we got to the terrible economic inequalities we have today, and to the dysfunctional political system we have today. And as I went around the country giving talks about that, people said, "What are we going to do about that?" or "Do you know about this?"And I began to discover there was a lot more going on around the country, at the grassroots, at the state level, and it was totally being ignored by Washington. [10:20] What motivates the grassroots organizers you met? They're, they're angry that democracy doesn't work right. They don't feel as though their votes count, they don't feel as though Washington listens to them. You look at poll after poll and it says lobbyists have too much power, corporations have taken over, Washington, they've captured the congress, and our system is broken. [18:14] How should organizations strike a balance between making changes through ballot initiatives and longer-term political reforms? There is a sense that reform as an issue is something people are looking for candidates to advocate is certainly front and center now. It's coming, though it's not yet high enough on the priority list for people to really be concerned about. I mean, you still have people worried, understandably, about jobs, about immigration, about climate change and so forth. So it's among the top tier issues but it's not at the top. [20:09] Is it possible that there could be too many groups competing for money, attention, and other resources? The answer is yes. I did a documentary for PBS Frontline some years ago called Poisoned Waters, which is an effort to look at what happened to the Clean Water Act 35 years later. And when I went into the field, I was just amazed at how many, environmental groups were competing for time, money, and resources. There's no question that the political reform movement suffers from the same kind of thing. It is sprawling. [26:11] What happens to the organizers after whatever they're working toward is successful? Do they move on to other causes or organizations? In a number of states, they fight off the effort of the other side to reverse the reform. So they're often very engaged in that. Then once they've survived that cycle, then they start to look around and see what else they need to do. In Florida, they moved from the gerrymander reform into restoring the, the voting rights of former felons and that kind of stuff. So I think what happens is, not everybody does it, but usually the leaders and some of the people that are important say, "Well this other issue is important to us. Let's, let's move ahead on it." I think there's a sense that people power can work and does work and we got a victory here and our system is going to be better for it. [30:50] Why don't these issues receive more media attention? I think there's a sense that nothing can be done and it's all a result of hyper-partisanship. That's the easy story to tell. Trump news is also big and media outlets are making enormous money off of it. It's really easy to produce and something I call fire engine journalism. There's lots of drama but you haven't really told people anything they really need to know. We're so caught up in easy reporting and profitable journalism that we're not doing our job. We're also very comfortable sitting in New York, Los Angeles and Washington and telling everybody what's going on in the rest of the country

A roundtable on impeachment, institutions, and legitimacy

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 — which makes him a great match for our own Michael and Chris. They discuss impeachment from the standpoint of political institutions and the legitimacy of our democracy. Regardless of what happens with the current impeachment inquiry, some of our government's norms and institutions may be irreversibly damaged, while others may develop in response to the Trump administration. They also touch on the growing epistemic divide we discussed with Nancy Rosenblum and Russell Muirhead in our episode on conspiracies. The Politics Guys is a bipartisan show, but Baranowski increasingly feels like he and his colleagues are talking past each other rather than having meaningful discussions. Listener Survey As we head toward the end of the year, we are conducting a listener survey to find out how we can make the show even better in 2020. Complete the survey for a chance to win a Democracy Works mug — the perfect holiday gift for the democracy enthusiast in your life. Additional Information The Politics Guys Related Episodes Understanding impeachment — from the Federalist Papers to the whistleblower Checking the President's power How conspiracies are damaging democracy

Your guide to ranked-choice voting

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 does it work? And, is it more democratic than the single-vote method we're used to? This week's guest has answers to all of those questions. Burt L. Monroe is Liberal Arts Professor Political Science, Social Data Analytics, and Informatics at Penn State and Director of the university's Center for Social Data Analytics. He says ranked-choice voting is is generally a good thing for democracy, but not entirely without problems of its own. We also talk about bullet voting, donkey voting, and other types of voting that have be tried around the world. As Michael and Chris discuss, ranked-choice voting falls into a category of grassroots organizing around pro-democracy initiatives like gerrymandering and open primaries. These efforts signal a frustration with the status quo and a desire to make the rules of democracy more fair and equitable. If you enjoy our show, please take a minute to leave a rating or review in your podcast app. Thank you! Additional Information Fairvote, an advocacy group for ranked-choice voting and election reform Burt's Google Scholar listing Related Episodes The case for open primaries One state's fight for fair maps Interview Highlights [6:52] What is ranked-choice voting? Ranked-choice voting is used to describe a lot of different systems, but mostly what people mean is something that's usually referred to as instant run-off. In a traditional runoff election, you vote as you normally would and if no one gets a majority, everybody but the top two is eliminated and you come back in four weeks or six weeks or eight weeks and vote again and somebody has a majority. Ranked-choice voting does that all at one time. Voters rank the candidates in a pure system from first choice to last choice and the votes are tallied based on the first choices and if no one has a majority, then the last place candidate is eliminated and the voters who had voted for that candidate first, their vote is transferred to their second candidate. And it goes on and on until there's a majority. [8:33] Does a voter have to rank all candidates on a ballot? The only place I know of that requires you to rank everybody is Australia, which uses it for their national elections. In most places you can rank as few as you want. If you rank only one, that's called bullet voting. Most of the U.S. variations of this, you can only rank up to a certain number. The New York one that just passed is five, I believe San Francisco's three. But you can vote for as many as you like, just as long as you don't vote more than one for first or second and so on. [11:24] Does ranked-choice voting change the way a candidate campaigns? This is one of the key points of contention about how this system works. One of the main arguments for it is that it encourages candidates to try to broaden their appeal so they can get those second choice, third choice, fourth choice. And that seems to be largely what happens. Although, there are examples where it didn't. Fiji uses ranked-choice voting and had a lot of antagonistic ethnic based voting. In that case, the electorate was so polarized that more extreme candidates were able to get more first choices and more moderate candidates were punished and didn't get enough first choices to stay in the race. [14:26] How does ranked-choice voting account for third-party candidates? If voters can be more sincere about their true preference for Jill Stein or Ralph Nader or what have you, but those candidates don't make the cut of on the first choices, their second choices are presumably the one- the more moderate that's closer to them. It's very handy for elections that have lots and lots of candidates. For example, New York is anticipating 17 candidates in one of their races coming up for advocate, And so you can imagine if you're just picking your first choice, with 17 candidates somebody could win with 5% of the vote. [16:18] Does ranked-choice voting give an advantage to low-information voters? Yeah, that's definitely a thing. Even in our current system, there's spoiled ballots that people fill out wrong. But there two ways I'm familiar with that this happens. One is bullet voting that I mentioned earlier, which is just voting for one candidate. Those votes are more likely to be, I think the term they use is exhausted. That is, their candidate gets eliminated and they don't have a second choice for it to pass to so their vote isn't used in the final tally. The other one I'm familiar with is Australia where everyone has to fill out he full ranking and there you get a phenomenon called donkey voting where people rank rank just in the order they appear on the ballot paper. So if they're alphabetical, they vote alphabetical. [17:58] Is there an impact on voter turnout? It's always hard to attribute increased turnout in a particular election to one thing because many thing change, but in San Francisco there was dramatic turnout raised in the first election that used this. In some districts, it went from like 17% to over 50%. So really dramatic changes when there wasn't much obvious else that was different about the election other than the ranked-choice option. The argument is that people want to be able to express themselves and this helps people who might otherwise want to vote for a candidate that doesn't have a chance or they think doesn't have a chance. [28:10] Is ranked-choice voting more democratic? I think the system we have now, there's so many ways it can elect somebody that a lot of people don't want. This is a pretty easy change to make to keep some bad things from happening and so I think it's pretty easy to advocate for.

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