In Brief

Podcasts of the Week: making sense of US politics

What to listen to ahead of next month’s presidential election

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris is one of the big-name guests on Pod Save America

If, like me, you are gripped by the crazed psychodrama that is the US presidential election, you may well already be listening to Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, said James Marriott in The Times. One of the “great podcasts”, it succeeds in making the niche subject of political polling fun, “thanks to the chemistry between its nerdy but charismatic hosts”.

A newer offering that I also relish is The Argument, in which two New York Times columnists – one liberal, one conservative – debate the week’s news. The former is Michelle Goldberg; the latter, Ross Douthat, a Catholic conservative of “eccentric but reliably interesting views”. Listeners in the UK might conclude that Douthat is “a bit bonkers”. But there again, “politely boggling at the oddness of views you don’t agree with is what the podcast is all about”. 

Another outstanding podcast that embraces the spirit of bipartisanship is The Purple Principle, said Phoebe Lett in The New York Times. This intriguing series explores the paradox that even as political divisions in the US have become “more extreme and entrenched” in recent decades, the number of independent and unaffiliated voters has actually grown – to more than 35% of the electorate. The hosts speak to professional mediators, stand-up comedians, psychologists, economists, writers and politicians in an effort to understand what’s going on.

From the BBC, Americast is a US politics podcast delivered with the more relaxed, “behind-the-news” style that Brexitcast and Newscast have “done so well”, said Charlotte Runcie in Prospect. Jon Sopel and Emily Maitlis offer serious analysis as well as amusing insight, and also provide instant reaction to the latest developments. 

For an authoritative daily round-up of the US election in ten minutes or less, listen to the CNN Political Briefing, said Eliana Dockterman in Time. Or, for the same rapid overview on a weekly basis, try Politically Sound (both hosted by David Chalian). In Hacks on Tap, the veteran Democrat strategist David Axelrod teams up with an old Republican adversary, Mike Murphy, for combative but friendly conversation and insidery campaign analysis.

Left, Right & Center is a long-running US debate podcast that offers balance across the political spectrum: it’s perfect for listeners “who may not be exposed to people outside of their own political bubble”. For policy wonks, Vox’s The Weeds podcast is a must-listen. And “it’s impossible to write about political podcasting without recognising the dominance of Pod Save America” – hosted by ex-Obama staffers who have the ability to pull in big-name guests (including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, pictured). 

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