Politics in Question

New America & R Street

A podcast about how our political institutions are failing us and ideas for fixing them.


Politics in Question

A podcast about how our political institutions are failing us and ideas for fixing them. American politics has reached a moment of existential uncertainty. Beyond the headlines and news alerts are problems bigger than any one administration—problems that stem from the deep tensions and challenges in America’s political institutions. It’s time to reevaluate and revisit how we think about American democracy. The Founding Fathers did their best, but the hosts of a new podcast, “Politics in Question,” have some ideas, too. They discuss political reforms in this first-of-its-kind show that asks the very biggest questions. Join hosts Lee Drutman, Julia Azari, and James Wallner, three lively experts on American political institutions and reform, as they imagine and argue over what American politics could look like if citizens questioned everything.

Featured Guests

Where To Start

How will COVID-19 impact the November elections?

In this week’s episode, Julia, Lee, and James ask what impact COVID-19 will have on the November elections. How can Americans vote safely during a pandemic? What are the long-term consequences of changing how they cast their ballots? Will Election Day become Election Month? Who wins and who loses when we reform how the United States conducts its elections? And what really happened in Wisconsin? These are some of the questions Julia, Lee, and James ask in this week’s episode of Politics In Question.

Julia references an Electoral Studies article by R. Michael Alvarez, Thad E. Hall, and Betsy Sinclair (“Whose absentee votes are returned and counted: The variety and use of absentee ballots in California”) when discussing the disproportionate way Americans’ votes are counted.

Lee references the work of MIT’s Charles Stewart on public opinion in elections and Rick Hansen’s new book, Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy, when discussing the extent to which both Democrats and Republicans feel that election outcomes are illegitimate.

Is there a better way to pick presidential nominees?

This week, Julia, Lee, and James talk about the process by which Democrats and Republicans pick their presidential nominees. Is there a better way to make that decision? What are the alternatives? And what role should the people play? These are some of the questions they consider in this episode.

James references Martin Van Buren’s 1827 letter to Thomas Ritchie in which he outlines his plans for the creation of a new Democratic Party.

Julia mentions her recent Mischiefs of Faction piece reacting to Super Tuesday.

Lee reminds listeners that the two-party system exacerbates the problems in how we pick presidential nominees and references his new book, Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America.

Should the House have more members?

This week, Julia, Lee, and James consider proposals to increase the size of the House of Representatives. Are 435 members able to represent effectively a diverse electorate comprised of almost 330 million people? If not, how many members should the House have? And will increasing the size of the House ameliorate or exacerbate its present dysfunction? These are some of the question they discuss on this week’s episode.

Lee reminds Julia and James that the original First Amendment to the Constitution proposed by James Madison in 1789 concerned apportionment and traces the present issue to the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. He also mentions the cube root law to highlight the extent to which the United States is a global outlier when it comes to the size of Congress’s lower chamber.

James cites Federalist 58 when suggesting that increasing the size of the House is unlikely to empower its rank-and-file members and argues that the reform will further centralize power in the party leadership. He references Thomas Jefferson’s idea of a ward republic and Hannah Arendt’s council system when considering what a truly participatory politics looks like. He mentions John Aldrich’s work on parties in the first Congress to highlight the impact of party heterogeneity on centralization in the House.

Lee cites Frances Lee’s book, Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign when considering the impact that a bigger House could have on Congress and its two political parties. He references his new book, Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America.

Meet The Hosts

Lee Drutman

Co-Host, Senior Fellow

Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the Political Reform program at New America. He is the author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America (Oxford University Press, 2020) and The Business of America is Lobbying (Oxford University Press, 2015), winner of the 2016 American Political Science Association's Robert A. Dahl Award, given for "scholarship of the highest quality on the subject of democracy." He is also the co-host of the podcast Politics in Question, and writes for the New York Times, Vox, and FiveThirtyEight, among other outlets. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley and a B.A. from Brown University.

Julia Azari

Co-Host, Political Science Associate Professor

Julia Azari is an associate professor of political science at Marquette University. She is the author of Delivering the People's Message: The Changing Politics of the Presidential Mandate (Cornell University Press, 2014). Her scholarly work has also appeared in Statistics in Public Policy, the ANNALS of the American Academy for Political and Social Science, and Perspectives on Politics. She is a contributor to the political science blog The Mischiefs of Faction and a contributor at FiveThirtyEight.com. She is the inaugural winner of the American Political Science Association's award for best public-facing scholar. She has a Ph.D. in political science from Yale University.

James Wallner

Resident Senior Fellow, Governance, R Street

James Wallner researches and writes about the theory and practice of democratic politics with an emphasis on Congress, political parties, and the policy process. He is also a Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Government at American University and a fellow at its Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. He is the author of several books, including: The Death of Deliberation: Gridlock and the Politics of Effort in the United States Senate and On Parliamentary War: Partisan Conflict and Procedural Change in the United States Senate. James received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Georgia and received both his master’s and doctoral degrees in politics from the Catholic University of America.

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