Improving public debate and teaching about politics


The Talking Politics podcast is one of the most important and effective vehicles in Britain for improving public understanding of politics.

Created in 2016 by academics at the University of Cambridge, it has been unrivalled in its ability to translate academic research to inform thinking across a variety of audiences, with more than 20.6 million listens from more than 155 countries.

David Runciman and Helen Thompson’s analysis on the podcast, grounded in their combination of political theory, history and political economy, has enhanced the teaching of politics in schools in the UK and globally, and prompted media professionals to rethink how they cover the subject. They are often joined by academic guests, many from the Department of Politics and International Studies, who bring their research expertise to bear on discussion of particular topics – from Brexit to Turkish politics – as well as a range of other writers, scholars and politicians.

The weekly podcast also locates contemporary politics in an expansive historical perspective. For instance, episodes have analysed how aspects of Brexit can be illuminated by the histories of Ancient Rome, the Reformation and the Corn Laws. The podcast avoids partisanship in favour of balanced and rigorous interrogation of long-term trends and issues.

Runciman and Thompson have also collaborated with the Fivethirtyeight podcast – one of the most popular American politics podcasts – featuring on one another’s podcast to expand the reach to an American audience. In 2020, 50.9% of listeners were in the UK, 16.3% from the USA, and 6.5% in Australia.

In addition to enhancing public understanding, the podcast has informed the views of a number of politicians, including policymakers involved in the Brexit negotiations. In 2019, Talking Politics was the starting point for sustained discussions between Runciman and Thompson with the Irish Finance Minister and his advisors around the Brexit negotiations.

“The contributors to ‘Talking Politics’ understood the nexus between political theory and the ‘real world’ with a clarity that is increasingly rare. Political economy and ideas are used to understand reality, not deepen a divide… I have found this podcast to be an invaluable source of insight into British politics as the Brexit process unfolded.”

– Irish Finance Minister