In a time of volatile politics and chaotic news cycles, it can be hard to separate the signal from the noise, to stay informed without getting completely and totally overwhelmed.
Which is why, despite recent talk of a “podcast bubble,” the medium is exactly what we need right now. Podcasts can slow down and really study a topic or event, bringing in the kind of nuance that’s too often lacking in our current discourse.
Sure, partisan political podcasts — from the Crooked Media/”Pod Save America” crew on the left to Ben Shapiro’s show on the right — are still incredibly popular, as are news podcasts that dip into politics, like the New York Times‘ “The Daily.”
But if you’re looking to preserve your sanity while keeping up to date, try one of these 10 podcasts, which offer a more balanced analyses, and a respite from the multi-person shouting of television news. They’ll keep you informed … without subjecting you to the vicious cacophony of the burning tire fire that is the world around us.
“Can He Do That?” The Washington Post
To say that Donald Trump’s presidency is unprecedented is an understatement, and we’re not even halfway through his first term. The constant churn can leave us feeling burned-out and confused. Enter Allison Michaels and “Can He Do That?” which views Trump’s actions through the lens of the actual limits on presidential power. Each episode features deeply researched analysis from journalists and experts, spelling out what Trump can and can’t do and the consequences therein. It’s a vital listen in an age of never-ending tumult.
“Ground Game,” The Associated Press
Believe it or not, American politics extends beyond the White House, even though Trump dominates so many headlines. And there’s an extremely important midterm election coming up … you may have heard of it? Fortunately, the Associated Press’ “Ground Game” cuts through the noise to deliver reporting from its network of journalists on congressional races from around the country and beyond. A recent episode gave detailed insight into what goes into the AP’s decision to call a race.
“Politics Podcast,” NPR
This podcast is exactly what you expect from an NPR production: the latest news, terrific analysis, and a wide range of topics. While you won’t find hot political takes here, it’s anything but dry. The discussion is engaging and informative without leaving you lost in the weeds. Being this thorough and covering such a breadth of topics — from the White House down to state races — makes it invaluable for those trying to keep up in a world in which news that’s more than a day old feels ancient.
“Political Gabfest,” Slate
If you like your political roundtable talk a little spicy, Slate’s “Political Gabfest” offers astute and lively debate that’s well worth a listen. The three hosts — David Plotz, Emily Bazelon, and John Dickerson — have been doing the show together for nearly 13 years, and that’s to its advantage. Not only does the familiarity bring a richness to their rapport, but they aren’t afraid to disagree and occasionally tangle about their topics. You’ll find everything from nuanced discussions about criminal justice reform to tutting over the latest scandals and fallout.
“Left, Right, & Center,” KCRW
Like Slate’s “Political Gabfest,” one of “Left, Right, & Center’s” strengths comes from its unique mix of voices — Josh Barro is in the middle, hosting a rotating door of guests — and the way these hosts play off each other. They’re purposefully from unique political viewpoints, enabling plenty of debate about the latest political news, issues, and controversies of the day, but always in a calm, respectful manner, never allowing the different perspectives to boil over the way we so often see online.
“Politics Podcast,” FiveThirtyEight
After Trump’s upset win in the 2016 presidential election, there was a lot of ire directed at Nate Silver’s site for projecting Hillary Clinton as the winner. But one of the great aspects of the site’s political podcast is how Silver and other staffers take these challenges head-on, explaining how the model works (including their current midterm models) and how readers should interpret them. The political discussions are also meticulous and often fun, as guests (usually FiveThirtyEight staffers like Clare Malone and Perry Bacon, Jr.) aren’t afraid to antagonize each other, keeping the podcast lively as they break down current events and try to interpret the larger impact on the chaotic political world.
“More Perfect,” WNYC
The judicial branch gets its due thanks to WNYC’s “More Perfect” podcast, which explores the history, the figures, and the cases that have made the highest court in the land such an important and, at times, contentious bedrock of our country. With so much attention being given to the Supreme Court lately, especially in terms of its political lean and sway, this podcast is a valuable asset in filling the knowledge gaps.
“Slow Burn,” Slate
Understanding history is essential to understanding our political present, not just because, as the saying goes, history repeats itself. As talk around the potential impeachment of Donald Trump simmers, it’s important to look back at our embattled presidents, and “Slow Burn” does that exquisitely, digging deeper into the Watergate scandal under Richard Nixon (season 1) and the scandal surrounding Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky (season 2).
This is John Dickerson’s second appearance on this list, but for very good reason. His delightful “Whistlestop” podcast has been churning out episodes of presidential history for years. (I included his book, based on the podcast, in a presidential biographies project I did for this site a few years back.) The podcast is still going, dipping into the past to give us essential context for events of the present. Recent episodes focus on the failed nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan in 1987.
“Presidential” and “Constitutional,” The Washington Post
Much like “Whistlestop,” this pair of podcasts from The Washington Post delves into our political past to give us context for current politics and actually teach us a few things. Both are fascinating, breaking the history, historical interpretations, and debates around our presidents and the country’s most important document into digestible bits without dumbing anything down. “Presidential” has one episode for each president, and “Constitutional” clocks in at a tidy eight episodes that look at the document’s impact on our country, plus a special reading of the preamble.
With any luck, these podcasts won’t just keep you up to date on political happenings without immersing you in the digital echo chamber — maybe you’ll keep your sanity and learn some U.S. history along the way.