'What's Wrong with Democracy?': Ben Ansell's new weekly podcast

Professor Ben Ansell has started a new podcast, ‘What’s Wrong with Democracy?

Despite the apparent negativity in the title of the podcast, Ben introduces the first episode by declaring himself as ‘naturally one of life’s optimists’ and says he doesn’t believe ‘democracy has had its day’. Yet, he also recognises the widespread discussion around democracy being ‘in some kind of a malaise’.  

With this in mind, Ben is joined by special guests from around the world – including academics, activists, journalists and writers in each episode. Ben and his guests discuss the various issues affecting democracy, such as AI, misinformation, conflict, and protest movements.  

A new episode of the podcast will become available every Wednesday via At the time of publication, there have been three episodes:

  1. ‘The world’s biggest democracy goes to the polls’
  2. ‘The autocrat next door’
  3. ‘The autocrat behind the keyboard’

‘The world’s biggest democracy goes to the polls’ (May 22 2024)

The 2024 Indian general election took place between April 19 and June 1. With more than 1 billion eligible to vote, this election is, to date, the largest election in human history. Episode 1 became available in the midst of this six-week process.

In this episode, Ben is joined by:  

  • Dr Pavi Suryanarayan – Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics
  • Daniel Ziblatt – co-author of ‘How Democracies Die’ (Crown, 2018)
  • Matali Mukherjee – Director of the Reuters Institute’s Journalism programme

Ben and his guests take a closer look at the state of democracy in India as a means of understanding what is happening in democracies across the globe. 

‘The autocrat next door’ (May 30 2024)

In episode 2, Ben introduces the concept of autocracy, which he calls ‘a very sharp, direct, external threat on democracy’. He defines an autocracy as ‘a country with a leader who’s completely unconstrained by voters, the mass public, or by institutions such as courts and parliaments’. 

Ben is joined by: 

  • Olga Onuch –  co-author of ‘The Zelensky Effect’ (Oxford University Press, 2023)
  • Nicole Bibbins Sedaca – Interim President of Freedom House

In this episode, Ben, Olga and Nicole talk about the Ukraine, where, in their view, democracy is under attack from Putin’s autocracy in neighbouring Russia.  

‘The autocrat behind the keyboard’ (June 5 2024)

In episode 3, Ben and his guests discuss information warfare and how modern-day autocrats are – or are said to be – using misinformation and disinformation to ‘stir up division’ and ‘anger’ to prevent ‘mutual trust’.

In this episode 3, Ben is joined by:

  • Emeka Umejei – Digital Rights Expert at the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative 
  • Ben Scott – CEO of Reset
  • James Ball – journalist and author 

Ben, Emeka, Ben and James talk about Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 Presidential election, and China’s media influence in Africa. They also discuss the effectiveness of these campaigns and how we might defend ourselves from such interference in future.