With increasing growth of the Internet and new technologies and devices to disseminate information digitally such as laptop computers and smartphones, political podcasts have become an "emerging industry" according to one view. Most began as spinoffs of existing media. In 2005, Slate began its Slate Political Gabfest podcast with its journalists discussing current events. Since then, many new programs have been created. Most political podcasts maintain a connection with an existing news source; for example, the podcast Start Making Sense is closely allied with its parent publication, The Nation magazine. Podcasts have "come into their own recently" according to Matt K. Lewis of the Daily Caller, with an increase in the number and length of political podcasts in recent years, with growth further spurred in 2016 by the United States presidential election.
Political podcasts serve a variety of purposes, such as to inform, to make money, to entertain (often with satire and humor), to advocate a cause, or to accomplish some mix of these and other purposes. Sometimes they help drive traffic to a particular website or news medium; podcasts have been used by political parties and candidates to sway likely voters. Analyst Matt K. Lewis uses political podcasts to keep himself informed on current events; he describes them as his "secret weapon" and listens for two hours per day. Some podcasts focus on the horse-race aspects of elections, such as strategy and which candidate is doing well in the polls, while others focus on politics and issues. They typically feature reporters, politicians, academics, writers, pollsters, and others who have established credentials in the public sphere; for example, Start Making Sense, hosted by historian Jon Wiener, has featured discussions on Edward Snowden, campaign strategy, inequality and class conflict, The Nation's yearlong investigation into abuses in the federally-run private prisons, as well as various authors and artists and activists. Some are designed as public relations vehicles to bolster the candidacy of a politician, such as Hillary Clinton's With Her podcast. Her podcast was criticized for being promotional and lacking critical commentary or substantive information about her policy positions, according to the political journalism organization Politico.
Most political podcasts tend to have a liberal or progressive orientation. Analyst Charley Locke suggested that a reason for this was that many podcasts were started by progressive news outlets such as Slate and The Nation and NPR and The New Yorker, and these podcasts began many years ago. However, the podcast Ricochet was started to cater to an "articulate, politically aware, conservative audience that feels under siege in college towns," according to one of its founders. Some podcasts explicitly strive to represent all parts of the political spectrum, such as KCRW's Left, Right & Center which features three pundits, understandably, from the left, right and center.
While a podcast's political orientation can lean to the left or the right or the center, it usually reflects the focus of the parent medium, and strives to bring multiple points of view within the overall focus, while covering current events and other issues in the news. Weekly podcasts are often tied to the news cycle, and many summarize recent events at the beginning of their program. Podcasts typically do not replace news reporting, but augment it. Most tend to be thoughtful, low-key discussions, with a relaxed and conversational tone, as if a listener was eavesdropping on reporters in a District of Columbia bar after hours. The podcast Keepin' it 1600 with speechwriter Jon Favreau and Obama administration adviser Dan Pfeiffer goes a bit further, where the "political chatter flows unfiltered" with occasional vulgar language.
Audiences are interested in current events. They include other professionals, such as journalists and campaign managers and politicians, who can use the podcast's content as source material for future articles that they might write or produce. Some podcasts focus on a specific region; there are podcasts which focus on North Carolina politics, on the Kansas City region, on Texas, and on Latino audiences.
Podcasts typically last between a half hour and an hour, and usually begin with an identifying tune or music as a lead-in. They are usually accompanied by links to other social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and they have feedback buttons for posting comments or contacting hosts or guests on the show. Most follow an interview format in which the host begins by introducing the program, then the guests and their qualifications. A few shows are accompanied by a text-version of the audio content. Most podcasts are digital audio files, but if accompanied by video, they are called video podcasts or vodcasts. Some shows are hosted by comedians or satirists; for example, Iranian-born Kambiz Hosseini hosts the podcast Five in the Afternoon from Brooklyn. Some podcasters have run into trouble with authorities; for example, journalist Choo Chin-woo of South Korea was arrested after publishing content that allegedly "defamed" the brother of a governing party's candidate. Podcaster Jung Bong-ju of the show I'm a Weasel was found "guilty of spreading false rumors" by the government of South Korea as part of a crackdown against free speech, and he was sentenced to one year in jail.
Listeners need a web connection and a device to play the podcast, such as an iPod or Smartphone or computer. Controls allow the user to skip through the audio, perhaps by using a mouse or swiping a finger, and often resembles the old boombox type controls: play, pause, fast forward, skip, and replay. A political podcast's icon is valuable "graphic real estate" since it is one of the few visual cues that identify a particular program. Podcasts can be downloaded into a device and then played offline at the listener's convenience; if podcasts are played directly from the Internet without being downloaded, it is sometimes referred to as streaming. Podcast producers do not necessarily require that the host and guests be in the same physical space, such that a host in California can interview a guest in Maine, for example. Broadcast technology can vary from complex studios to basic setups, with the general trend being that equipment is getting more powerful and less expensive as time goes by. One journalist described how he souped up a laptop to handle a podcast:
We got a couple of microphones, a little converter box that plugs into my laptop and some cheap software, and Voila! — my desk is transformed into a recording studio. ... The whole setup fits in a backpack, and during the presidential conventions, we should be able to use it to do real-time interviews anywhere. The system uploads more or less instantly, so I can go from recording an interview to live on the website in about 10 minutes.Candidate Confessional
Chapo Trap House with "irreverent leftist commentary"
Common Sense with Dan Carlin hosted by Dan Carlin for Libertarian audiences
Keepin' it 1600 -- a "raucous happy hour" format with political speechwriter Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer
Left, Right & Center (KCRW) has pundits, understandably, from the left, right and center
Ricochet for conservative audiences
Slate Political Gabfest with Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson and David Plotz
Start Making Sense by The Nation magazine features historian Jon Wiener
The Axe Files
The Brilliant Idiots with radio personality Charlamagne Tha God and Andrew Schultz
The Pollsters discusses new developments in political polling
The World Next Week from the Council on Foreign Relations, highlights upcoming political events from around the world
Political podcasts have experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, but activity may lessen after the 2016 presidential election in the United States. According to analyst Nicholas Quah of Harvard's Nieman Lab, political podcasts can take one of two routes: either increasing the frequency of their broadcasts to cover rapid new developments, or approaching topics more thematically in an effort to make each episode "less disposable." He proposed a hybrid model in which content from disposable interview-type podcasts can be used to update the archives of thematically-oriented content.