16 Podcasts to Help You Make Sense of the 2016 Elections

For the next 15 months or so, we’ll all be inundated with news and chatter surrounding the 2016 presidential race. Whether you’re hungry for in-depth analysis or just want to hear about the most buzzworthy stories, there’s probably a podcast to suit your needs. 

This week I share a few shows that tackle politics from all angles (preferably with little to no screaming). For other podcast recs, visit the archive. Feel free to share suggestions via the comments or Twitter.

THE FRONTRUNNERS

Popular, insightful podcasts about politics 

Slate’s Political Gabfest
If I want to hear intelligent, insider-y political discussions, this is where I look first. The hosts are excitable but civil, making for episodes that enlighten and rarely bore. 

Common Sense with Dan Carlin
Podcast superstar Carlin (Hardcore History) specializes in digging below the surface. Unlike many other hosts, he treats all political viewpoints with equal scrutiny. 

The Young Turks
This bold and lively show airs weekdays and is available as audio or video. Hosts are often drawn to provocative political news, but they throw in pop culture stories from time to time, too. (Note: The language can get pretty salty, as I discovered while listening in the car with my toddler.)

The Majority Report with Sam Seder
Described as “American politics for the non-brain dead or knuckle draggers,” Seder’s show features an array of political analysts, experts, and opinionated listeners. Those who prefer to live in real time and/or participate can listen live at majority.fm

Ken Rudin’s Political Junkie
Rudin, best known for hosting the popular “Political Junkie” segment on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, now runs his own site and show. His passion shines through, and he nabs interesting guests, like GOP strategist Roger Stone (who offered insight on what makes Donald Trump tick, for better or worse). 

THE NEWSMAKERS

Podcasts featuring recent headlines and timely, lively debates 

The Ticket 2016
Radio station KUT partners with the Texas Tribune for this weekly show that follows national political campaigns with a dash of Texas flavor.

KCRW’s Left, Right & Center
Here’s another fine show from the station, in which experts from both ends of the political spectrum dissect the latest headlines. 

DecodeDC
This podcast isn’t as concerned with sharing scoops as it is with telling a solid, engaging story. Episodes have addressed the Supreme Court, Iran, and … the intersection of politics and bourbon. 

LIKE THE SITE? HEAR THE PODCAST.

Political shows from popular publications

Politico: The Scrum
This show is a good destination for political interviews and insider chatter. Last week’s ep addressed “Trump fatigue,” and a recent interview was dubbed “50 Shades of Barney Frank.” 

The Federalist Radio Hour
Hosted by TheFederalist.com publisher Ben Domenech, this show runs Monday through Friday. It excels in explaining big topics—a recent episode broke down the Hillary Clinton email story—and highlights its reporters’ latest pieces. 

The Huffington Post: So That Happened
Hosts of this weekly show promise “an alternative to the Sunday morning shows they’ve stopped watching,” with an emphasis on water-cooler topics and recognizable political figures (like senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders).

New Yorker: The Political Scene
Hosted by New Yorker executive editor Dorothy Wickenden, this show specializes in smart, taut discussions about the political landscape. Episodes usually run about 15-20 minutes. 

AND DON’T FORGET …

Political podcasts with unique angles 

Real Time with Bill Maher
Don’t have HBO? You can still hear Maher’s show each week as a podcast, along with “Overtime” interviews and bonus episodes. 

We the People
Produced by the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, this weekly show digs into constitutional issues with the help of high-profile politicians and experts. 

The Pollsters
This show is all about the numbers. Each week, hosts Margie Omero (a Democrat) and Kristen Soltis Anderson (a Republican) break down the latest data and polls alongside special guests. 

Slate’s Whistlestop
If the current presidential race sounds wacky, just wait until you hear some of the stories on this podcast, which highlights great and not-so-great moments in presidential campaign history.

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15 Podcasts That Will Make You Feel Smarter
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It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the podcast options out there, but narrowing down your choices to the titles that will teach you something while you listen is a good place to start. If you're interested in learning more about philosophy, science, linguistics, or history, here are podcasts to add to your queue.

1. THE HABITAT

The Habitat is the closest you can get to listening to a podcast recorded on Mars. At the start of the series, five strangers enter a dome in a remote part of Hawaii meant to simulate a future Mars habitat. Every part of their lives over the next year, from the food they eat to the spacesuits they wear when they step outside, is designed to mimic the conditions astronauts will face if they ever reach the red planet. The experiment was a way for NASA to test plans for a manned mission to Mars without leaving Earth. The podcast, which is produced by Gimlet media and hosted by science writer Lynn Levy, ends up unfolding like a season of the Real World with a science fiction twist.

2. STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

Can’t pick a topic to educate yourself on? Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff Works is the podcast for you. In past episodes, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark (both writers at How Stuff Works) have discussed narwhals, Frida Kahlo, LSD, Pompeii, hoarding, and Ponzi schemes. And with three episodes released a week, you won’t go long without learning about a new subject.

3. THE ALLUSIONIST

Language nerds will find a kindred spirit in Helen Zaltzman. In each episode of her Radiotopia podcast The Allusionist, the former student of Latin, French, and Old English guides listeners through the exciting world of linguistics. Past topics include swearing, small talk, and the differences between British and American English.

4. PHILOSOPHIZE THIS!

Listening to all of Philosophize This! is cheaper than taking a philosophy class—and likely more entertaining. In each episode, host Stephen West covers different thinkers and ideas from philosophy history in an approachable and informative way. The show proceeds in chronological order, starting with the pre-Socratic era and leading up most recently to Jacques Derrida.

5. MORE PERFECT

In 2016, Radiolab, one of the most popular and well-established educational podcasts out there, launched a show called More Perfect. Led by Radiolab host Jad Abumrad, each episode visits a different Supreme Court case or event that helped shape the highest court in the land. Because of that, the podcast ends up being about a lot more than just the Supreme Court, exploring topics like police brutality, gender equality, and free speech online.

6. SLOW BURN

The Watergate scandal was such a important chapter in American history that it has its own suffix—but when asked to summarize the events, many people may draw a blank. Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate, gives listeners a refresher. In eight episodes, host Leon Neyfakh tells the story of the Nixon’s demise as it unfolded, all while asking whether or not citizens would be able to recognize a Watergate-sized scandal if it happened today.

7. LETTERS FROM WAR

Instead of using a broad scope to examine World War II, the Washington Post podcast Letters From War focuses on hundreds of letters exchanged by four brothers fighting in the Pacific during the period. Living U.S. military veterans tell the sibling's story while reflecting on their own experiences with war.

8. LEVAR BURTON READS

Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the soothing sound of LeVar Burton’s voice reading to you. The former host of Reading Rainbow now hosts LeVar Burton Reads, a podcast from Stitcher aimed at adults. In each episode, he picks a different piece of short fiction to narrate: Just settle into a comfortable spot and listen to him tell stories by authors like Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

9. BRAINS ON!

Brains On! is an educational podcast for young audiences, but adults have something to gain from listening as well. Every week, host Molly Bloom is joined by a new kid co-host who helps her explore a different topic. Tune in for answers to questions like "What makes paint stick?" and "How do animals breathe underwater?"

10. SCIENCE VS

There’s a lot of misinformation out there—if you’re determined to sort out fact from fiction, it can be hard to know where to start. The team of “friendly fact checkers” at the Science Vs podcast from Gimlet is here to help. GMOs, meditation, birth control, Bigfoot—these are just a few of the topics that are touched upon in the weekly show. The goal of each episode is to replace any preconceived notions you have with hard science.

11. FLASH FORWARD

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but Flash Forward lays out the more interesting possibilities. Some of the potential futures that host and producer Rose Eveleth explores are more probable than others (a future where no one knows which news sources to trust isn’t hard to imagine; one where space pirates drag a second moon into orbit perhaps is), but each one is built on real science.

12. HIDDEN BRAIN

What motivates the everyday choices we make? That’s the question Shankar Vedantam tries to answer on the NPR podcast Hidden Brain. The show looks at how various unconscious patterns shape our lives, like what we wear and who we choose to spend time with.

13. PART-TIME GENIUS

The fact that it’s hosted by Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur isn’t the only reason we love Part-Time Genius. The podcast from How Stuff Works wades into topics you didn’t know you were curious about, like the origins of Nickelodeon and the hidden secrets at the Vatican. Each episode will leave you feeling educated and entertained at the same time.

14. ASTRONOMY CAST

It’s a big universe out there—if you want to learn as much about it as possible, start with Astronomy Cast. Fraser Cain, publisher of the popular site Universe Today, and Dr. Pamela L. Gay, director of the virtual research facility CosmoQuest, host the podcast. They cover a wide range of topics, from the animals we’ve sent to orbit to the color of the universe.

15. SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

The Science of Happiness podcast from PRI is here to improve your life, one 20-minute episode at a time. Science has proven that adopting certain practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, can make us happier—as does letting go of less unhealthy patterns like grudges and stressful thinking. With award-winning professor Dacher Keltner as your host, you can learn how to incorporate these science-backed strategies for happiness into your own life.

S-Town Podcast Is Being Turned Into a Movie

S-Town, a seven-part podcast from Serial and This American Life, has all the trappings of a binge-worthy story. It all started when a man from the tiny town of Woodstock, Alabama asked a reporter to investigate a local man from a wealthy family who allegedly boasted he had gotten away with murder.

As for what happens next, “someone else ends up dead, sparking a nasty feud, a hunt for hidden treasure, and an unearthing of the mysteries of one man's life,” reads the 2017 podcast’s synopsis, without giving too much away.

Now, that riveting story is being turned into a movie with This American Life’s participation, IndieWire reports. Participant Media acquired the rights to the S-Town podcast, and negotiations are underway to get playwright Samuel Hunter and director Tom McCarthy on board. McCarthy is perhaps best known for directing and co-writing 2015's Oscar-winning Spotlight; he also co-wrote Up and was an executive producer and director for the controversial Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

S-Town was downloaded over 10 million times over a period of four days after its release, and it received a Peabody Award for the radio/podcast category, according to IndieWire. Just last month, HBO and Sky announced they would be releasing a documentary series about Adnan Syed, the focus of the first season of the Serial podcast, which is developed by This American Life.

In case you missed S-Town when it premiered, you can go back and listen to it here.

[h/t IndieWire]

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