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a hand writingWhat the press says

Kevin Goldberg, Discover Pods

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.

WITF Smart Talk

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.

Savita Iyer, The Penn Stater Magazine

A functioning democracy is a work in progress with many moving parts, one of the most important being vibrant debate and discussion. That’s just what the McCourtney Institute for Democracy is hoping to encourage with a new podcast series entitled Democracy Works.

About the show

Examining what it means to live in a democracy

a heart with an arrow through itWhat fans say about the podcast

Learning what it takes to repair democracy

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

A historical context for democracy

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

A classroom resource

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

About the Hosts

Jenna Spinelle

Jenna Spinelle


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 worked in Penn State’s Undergraduate Admissions Office and College of Information Sciences and Technology.

Michael Berkman

Michael Berkman


Michael Berkman (Ph.D., Indiana University) is a professor in the Department of Political Science and the director of the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR), a center of excellence within 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 his colleague 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). His first book, The State Roots of National Politics: Congress and the Tax Agenda, 1978–1986 (Pittsburgh University Press), looked at how state policies influence national politics.

Christopher Beem

Christopher Beem


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 served as grants and communications manager for Next Door, a nonprofit organization dedicated to early childhood education in Milwaukee’s central city. Before that, he directed the Democracy and Community Program at the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread Conference Center

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You can listen to episodes right here on the website, or if you prefer, in a podcast app. Listening in an app makes it easier to keep track of what you’ve already heard, listen without using your data plan and many other conveniences.

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Start listening to Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom
Start listening to Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom