Ben Talks Address State of U.S. Democracy

Journalist alums and political science faculty are joining to share their experience and research and address whether democracy in the U.S. is in crisis, at a crossroads, or reaching a new normal.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

By Susan Ahlborn

Responses to the pandemic, unprecedented political polarization, battles over voting rights and racial justice: Our circumstances have led many of us to think more deeply about the glue that holds our society together. This spring’s edition of Penn Arts & Sciences’ Ben Talks, U.S. Democracy: In Crisis, at a Crossroads, or the New Normal?, are bringing together alumni journalists and political scientists to discuss current events and the possibilities for the future.  A virtual version was held early in May, and another panel will discuss the topic during an Alumni Weekend event that will be live and live-streamed.

Modeled after the popular TED Talks, Ben Talks give our acclaimed faculty the opportunity to deliver their "ideas worth sharing.” On May 4, Shirley Zilberstein, C’00, Director of News Standards for NBC News, moderated a discussion with John Lapinski, Robert A. Fox Leadership Professor of Political Science and Director of the Penn Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies (PORES); Daniel Hopkins, Professor of Political Science; and Diana Mutz, Samuel A. Stouffer Professor of Political Science and Communication at the Penn Arts & Sciences and the Annenberg School and Director of the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics.

The presentations ranged from the Capital riot, trust in the system, national versus local politics and elections, and attitudes toward globalization. The audience included alumni from multiple Penn schools as well as current students. Their questions touched on how the media are affecting politics, whether the two-party system has contributed to polarization, potential reforms, and the effect of the Roe v Wade opinion leak. The speakers ended with cautious optimism, agreeing that U.S. democracy is facing challenges but that it has before.

The Alumni Weekend edition of U.S. Democracy: In Crisis, at a Crossroads, or the New Normal? will feature Nancy Cordes, C'95, Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News; Marc Meredith, Associate Professor of Political Science; and Stephanie Perry, Executive Director of PORES and the Fox Leadership Program. The event will take place on Friday, May 13, from 12:30–1:30 p.m. While the in-person event has reached capacity, you can still register for the live stream of the event through the Alumni Weekend site.