In the Public Ear: Time to Pod-Cast Your Ballot

Tomorrow’s election has proved to be a news event too big, and too ostentatious, for content producers of any form to ignore. The podcasting realm has been shaped by the election in a number of ways.

While some shows Radiolab or 99% Invisible have not been completely dictated by the election, other podcasts are dedicated to it entirely. The NPR Politics Podcast is among the most downloaded politics shows, and has been heavily focused on the national election. Launched in November 2015, the podcast is meant to be a show “where NPR’s political reporters talk to you like they talk to each other.” The show often publishes multiple times a week, and has been releasing daily episodes from October 25th until the election on November 8th.

The Panoply network has also created election-dedicated podcasts. Slate’s Trumpcast is dedicated solely to understanding and dissecting the Trump candidacy. Hosted by Jacob Weisberg, chairman of the Slate Group, this podcast makes no attempts at neutrality. Weisberg hates Trump, yet seeks to understand him. Politically Re-active was also born out of electoral dread. Comedians W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu host (typically left-leaning) guests each week to try to understand the different ideologies that are shaping this election.

There are dozens of other podcasts devoted to the 2016 election. In The Thick interviews marginalized voices about the election and Election Profit Makers covers election-related prediction markets. Standard media companies have joined the fray too with podcasts like The Run-Up (from The New York Times), FiveThirtyEight Elections, and Politico’s 2016 Nerdcast.

These podcasts have enjoyed some success in the past months. On the iTunes top 200 podcast chart, FiveThirtyEight Elections is ranked 20th, NPR Politics Podcast 22nd, and The Run-Up 66th. Politically Re-active and Trumpcast have also spent time on the charts. Clearly, despite podcasts’ inability to break election news, listeners are interested in delayed election analysis.

However it is not clear how these podcasts will continue post-election. Some election-centric podcasts have worked to expand their scope. For example, initially the NPR Politics Podcast focused almost exclusively on election news, but has since expanded coverage to a wide range of political topics, from down-ballot elections to the Supreme Court. It may hope to be NPR’s Political Gabfest. Politically Re-active has also been slowly expanding beyond election coverage. In fact, with guests like Pastor Michael McBride, Rosa Clemente, and Dream Hampton, the show may be cementing itself as the go-to political podcast for the far left.

Other such podcasts have a clear end date. Slate’s Trumpcast is set to end when Trump is no longer a political story. As host Weisberg has noted, it could end with the election or in eight years. I cannot imagine that shows with titles like The Run-Up or FiveThirtyEight Election will have much of a life beyond November 8th. Ending FiveThirtyEight’s and Politico’s election shows may be good for their businesses. Their election podcasts have no sponsors so are only spending money. The Run-Up, however, is sponsored by podcast regulars Wix and Casper. Given that the show brings in revenue, it’ll be interesting to see if The New York Times finds a way to continue it.

Of course, plenty of established podcasts have dedicated time to the election. Obviously, perennial political podcasts, like Slate’s Political Gabfest and Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, regularly discuss the election. But many podcasts have interrupted their typical topics to cover electoral issues. Most notably, This American Life has run a series they’re calling This American Vote. The three-episode series covers everything from fact-fudging to the changing GOP to Hillary Clinton’s public and private image.

Planet Money has also tapped into election fervor with two episodes about a fictional presidential candidate with perfect economic policies that divides the support of economists and the rest of America. Hidden Brain has discussed difficulties faced by female leaders. Strangers has covered how it feels to vote in America as a naturalized citizen, and Freakonomics has discussed why third parties can’t get electoral traction. These episodes came later in the campaign and clearly catered to a wider crowd than the politicos who listen to the all election, all the time podcasts. Further, a one-off election episode in an established podcast is a safer bet for networks than creating an entirely new series.

This election season has been a boon for standard media outlets and networks. While podcasting can’t capitalize on the election ups and downs in the same way, some have tried. Election focused podcasts are doing well in the rankings, but their future is unclear. Old hat political podcasts are accustomed to ebb and flow of political interest. It is not certain that the newcomers will be able to adjust to lower levels of political interest post-election. Regardless, this election season has seen some unprecedented politicking and some great podcasts.

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