The political landscape has morphed into something unrecognizable in the past few years. A president who doesn’t conform to the usual mold and an ever more divided battleground has left wonks, insiders, and the average person feeling totally befuddled. With the 2020 election quickly approaching, there’s no better time to get acquainted with podcasts that get to the heart of daily news and its broader context. (Plus, you know you have the free time in quarantine.) Here are 15 to consider.
Sean Rameswaram hosts Vox’s Today, Explained, a five-days-a-week, no-frills show that goes over the news in concise episodes that clock in under 30 minutes. If you’re trying to become more politically aware, but only have a few minutes to do it, this is the show for you.
If the 2020 election has you feeling muddled and anxious, this in-depth, data-focused podcast from FiveThirtyEight will inevitably help you sort out your thoughts. The podcast is released every few days and will only become more essential as we move into an unprecedented voting process in the time of COVID-19. Follow along for recent updates, as well as explainers into Trump and Biden’s voter bases and how the pandemic could affect the race.
In the Thick
In the Thick goes beyond the largely white political chatter to discuss stories mainstream outlets tend to overlook. The bi-weekly show is co-hosted by Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela, who bring on journalists of color to discuss current politics, from the rise in anti-Asian sentiment due to COVID-19 to the fight for environmental justice in Indigenous communities.
Women Belong in the House
What does it take to run for office as a woman? How could Congress change if it actually represented the people it serves? And what does it mean to have a seat at those very tables? In Women Belong in the House, host Jenny Kaplan answers these questions through interviews with women who’ve thrown themselves into the political arena, from the campaign trail all the way to their offices on Capitol Hill.
The NPR Politics Podcast
For all you public radio lovers, here’s another once-a-weekday show that gives you an overview of the essential headlines from NPR’s top political reporters. If you can’t tune in every day, the show also produces a slightly longer weekly roundup so you can get all caught up before next week’s barrage of news comes tumbling down.
The Brown Girls Guide to Politics
In 2018, A’shanti Gholar started The Brown Girls Guide to Politics blog as a one-stop shop for women of color interested in political life. As of March 2019, the blog has been extended into a podcast, where Gholar talks to influential women in the political sphere such as Stacey Abrams and Paulette Jordan. Plus, Gholar has her own wisdom to share: She spent 15 years working in politics, 10 of them in D.C., and is currently the president of Emerge America. Listen in, then dive deeper with the curated resources she includes on the blog.
Michael Barbaro recaps the day’s news in half an hour or less, providing digestible takes on what you need to know about Washington, foreign affairs, economics, and the players whose names appear in headlines. The gravy comes from Times reporters who dive a little deeper into ongoing investigations, steered by questions from Barbaro that make complicated issues way more approachable.
For a New York Times podcast of a different stripe, try Still Processing. Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham discuss pop culture through a political lens that America all but requires. Sure, they might riff on War for the Planet of the Apes, but the hosts will also consider science fiction and its relationship with morality and technology more broadly. Or, as in one episode, they might perform a survey of blackness in television and film from the past 30 years. It’s lively and essential listening.
There aren’t that many politics podcasts hosted by two women, let alone two women from opposite sides of the aisle. Pantsuit Politics features Sarah Stewart Holland from the left and Beth Silvers from the right, and if you’ve ever found it difficult to contemplate conversing about political issues with someone whose party allegiance differs from yours, the respectful, constructive tone of this twice-weekly podcast is a great model. If Holland and Silvers agree on anything, it’s that many of the president’s deeds deserve critique from both sides, and their rapport is a good reminder of what political discourse can look like. Remember: This is not normal.
Pod Save the People
Activist DeRay Mckesson hosts this weekly show that goes deep on politics, culture, and social justice, and activists Brittany Packnett and Sam Sinyangwe and writer Clint Smith often join to discuss the weekly news. While the show might not always get into the nitty gritty of 2020, the conversations are wide-ranging and the topics newsworthy and surprising, giving you the knowledge you need to approach the nation’s political conversation with a more nuanced lens.
If you don’t think you can handle dramatic renditions of Donald Trump’s tweets, then this podcast is certainly not for you. But if you can stomach the (scarily on-point) impressions by John Di Domenico, this “quasi-daily” report on the president’s doings (Can he pardon himself? How above board are the actions of his family members?) is a great tool for the regular person who is just trying to figure out exactly what #45 is doing. The president’s statements and actions have reportedly befuddled his own staff and experts, let alone people who don’t have an intimate relationship with politics. Trumpcast helps us make sense of his declarations by way of analysis from pundits entrenched in the worlds of politics, law, and journalism.
Call Your Girlfriend
It’s not a political podcast, per se. But this weekly chatfest between long-distance besties Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman covers everything smart feminists might want to discuss with their friends, from Moon Juice to gender roles in boy bands. We’ve included it here because it does often incorporate explicitly political content—for example, a couple of episodes focused on women running for office (an idea we love, obviously). There was also a two-part series about Joe Biden, and a recent episode featured an interview with a police abolitionist. And yes, the theme song is exactly what you think it is.
Now for a classic: Slate’s Political Gabfest began in 2005, and while it’s hard to imagine hosts John Dickerson, David Plotz, and Emily Bazelon thought they would still be in the chair—discussing the presidential antics of Donald Trump, no less—their collective expertise and long-honed dynamic makes for a vigorous hour each week. And don’t think that just because they’ve worked together for over a decade, the trio is phoning it in. While the hosts seem completely simpatico, their conversations can get spiky—which is as it should be for topics of national and international importance. Passionate, informed, and articulate debate make this a don’t-miss pick.
Pod Save America
For a podcast that only started in 2017, Pod Save America has an impressive following. But that might be because it’s a new iteration of the beloved election-tracking podcast Keepin’ It 1600. Former White House aides Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer, and Tommy Vietor are insiders, and it shows: For one, they managed to snag an exit interview with Barack Obama himself. The hosts’ relaxed, easy patter belies the wealth of Washington learnings they bring to the table, which they use to give current news a more personal touch. If you want to get at the humanity behind the senatorial numbers and caucus minutiae, give these guys a whirl.
Can He Do That?
Well, can he? While most of the podcasts on this list will inevitably discuss the Trump administration, the Washington Post’s Can He Do That? is laser-focused on the 45th president. The title alludes to a question most of us have asked ourselves at some point over the last few years, and the show attempts to answer it, from whether Trump can buy Greenland to if he can actually deploy the military to quell protestors.
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