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We are partisans for democracy

What does that mean? We don't take sides on the political spectrum, but we do defend the rights everyone has as a democratic citizen — from voting to protesting to consuming information from a free press that serves as a check on political leaders.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy draws from the humanities and social sciences to examine democracy from multiple angles. This cross-discipline collaboration is evident in our research, education, and outreach efforts.

We educate the next generation of democratic citizens through our Nevins Fellows program, monitor attitudes toward democracy with the Mood of the Nation poll, and host speakers and events that bring people from diverse backgrounds and points of view together to discuss the role of democracy in our society.

We make all of this happen in partnership with our centers of excellence, the Center for American Political Responsiveness and the Center for Democratic Deliberation, and many other organizations throughout the College of the Liberal Arts and the broader Penn State community.

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Democracy Works Podcast
Viktor Orbán’s “velvet repression” in Hungary

Viktor Orbán’s “velvet repression” in Hungary

This episode begins a four-part series examining the state of democracy around the world. First up is Hungary, a country that’s often referred to in a group of countries in central and Eastern Europe that are seeing authoritarian leaders rise to power. You might have heard of Viktor Orbán or know that the country is in some way associated with George Soros, but beyond that, it’s not a place many of us spend a lot of time thinking about.

We could not have found a better guest to help us make sense of what’s happening there. John Shattuck is the former President and Rector of Central European University, which Hungary’s Prime Minister recently forced out of the country. He is currently Professor of Practice in Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The power of local government

The power of local government

Peter Buckland is the Chair of the Board of Supervisors in Ferguson Township, Pennsylvania. You’ll hear him describe the area and the structure in the interview, but really Ferguson Township could be just about any municipality in America. He outlines three ways that citizens and local government can work together to create more informed and more vibrant democracy at the local level.

Using the tools of democracy to address inequality

Using the tools of democracy to address inequality

Democracy and inequality have been at odds for as long as democracy as has existed. As the gap between rich and poor widens, so too does trust in political institutions and faith in democracy itself.

Chris Witko, associate director of Penn State’s School of Public Policy and author of The New Economic Populism: How States Respond to Economic Inequality, argues that states can step in to address economic inequality while the federal government is embattled in political polarization.

Witko argues that democracy and capitalism will never fully be reconciled, but lessening economic inequality will go a long way toward strengthening democracy.

What is democracy? A conversation with Astra Taylor

What is democracy? A conversation with Astra Taylor

We begin our third season with a fundamental question: What is democracy? Astra Taylor grapples with this question in a documentary of the same name and a forthcoming book. We talk with her this week about what she learned from traveling the world and talking with people from all walks of life. As you'll hear, she did not set out to make a documentary about democracy, but kept coming back to that question.

It's good to be counted

It's good to be counted

This week's episode is all about the U.S. Census. Jennifer Van Hook, Roy C. Buck Professor of Sociology and Demography at Penn State, served on the Census Advisory Board from 2007 to 2011 and is an expert on how census data is collected, how it’s evaluated, and how it’s used. 

2018: The year in democracy

2018: The year in democracy

From gerrymandering to record voter turnout, it’s been a busy year for democracy. This doesn’t mean that everything has been positive, but there’s certainly plenty to reflect on. This week, Michael Berkman and Chris Beem take a look a look back at some of the biggest democracy-related stories of the year and look at what’s in store for next year.

Are land-grant universities still "democracy's colleges?"

Are land-grant universities still "democracy's colleges?"

Land-grant universities were once known as “democracy’s colleges,” places where people who were not wealthy elites could earn the education necessary to make better lives for themselves and contribute to the greater social good in the process. We invited Nick Jones, Penn State's Executive Vice President and Provost, to join us this week for a conversations about the tension between staying true to the land-grant mission and ensuring that the university remains financially stable as funding from the state remains flat or declines.

Winning the "democracy lottery"

Winning the "democracy lottery"

It’s not the Powerball or the Mega Millions, but this democracy lottery does give people the chance to directly impact information that appears on the ballot in their state. Like a lot of things we talk about on this show, the Citizens Initiative Review (CIR) is not easy, but as you’ll hear from Robin Teater and John Gastil, is work worth doing.

Gen. Wesley Clark on the military and democracy

Gen. Wesley Clark on the military and democracy

We observe Veterans Day this week, a time when people across the United States remember and thank those who have served in the military. While the military remains one of the most respected institutions in the U.S., it’s also one of the most misunderstood.

Protecting democracy from foreign interference

Protecting democracy from foreign interference

Laura Rosenberger has been one of the most important voices in the efforts to combat this interference and ensure that democracy becomes even stronger and more resilient. This conversation with McCourtney Institute for Democracy Director Michael Berkman was recorded live at the National Press Club.

David Frum on the habits of democracy

David Frum on the habits of democracy

Democracy, no matter where it’s happening in the world, is most successful when people come together to build something greater than the sum of its parts.

When states sue the federal government

When states sue the federal government

Since taking office in January 2017, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been involved with more than a dozen suits brought against the federal government on matters ranging from family separation at the border to EPA emissions regulations. He presents an interesting take on the role that states play as a check on the federal government. This power is a unique part of the American experiment and speaks to the power of democracy in the states.

Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom

Citizenship, patriotism, and democracy in the classroom

This episode features a conversation with Mark Kissling, assistant professor of social studies education at Penn State. His work focuses on citizenship education, or the practice of preparing civic-minded individuals. Mark helps future teachers tackle controversial subjects in the classroom.

Behind the scenes of the "Year of the Woman"

Behind the scenes of the "Year of the Woman"

One of the biggest headlines to emerge heading into the 2018 midterms is the record number of women running for office. Rebecca Kreitzer, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill studies the more than 400 groups that exist to help elect women into office.

Facebook is not a democracy

Facebook is not a democracy

If you’ve followed any of the recent news about Facebook, you’ve probably heard the company make claims about giving its community a voice and other things that sound very democratic. However, as Matt Jordan explains in this episode, that is not the case at all.

A democracy summer reading list

A democracy summer reading list

If you’ve been to a book store or the library lately, then you’ve probably seen at least a few books on democracy on the shelves. The 2016 presidential election spurred a lot of conversation about the current state of our democracy and where things go from here. 

How will we remember Charlottesville?

How will we remember Charlottesville?

Joining us to unpack the public memory around Charlottesville is Brad Vivian. He is the director of the McCourtney Institute’s Center for Democratic Deliberation and a professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State. Brad studies public memory, particularly around Confederate iconography. He also grew up in the Charlottesville area and recounts some of his experiences there during the interview.

Ep. 18: The Constitutional Crisis Episode

Ep. 18: The Constitutional Crisis Episode

This is one we’ve been wanting to do since we started the podcast. The term constitutional crisis is frequently used but often misunderstood. Like democracy, it’s hard to define but you know it when you see it.

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