As the season draws to a close, it is time for the Contemporary Issues Forum’s annual election update, sponsored by the Chautauqua Women’s Club.
At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, political historian and Pennsylvania politics pundit G. Terry Madonna will present “2016 Presidential Elections: At the Starting Gate — Prospects and Possibilities.”
Madonna is the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs within the Floyd Institute for Public Policy Analysis and a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Under his guidance, F&M’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs convenes specialized sessions and public and private forums about a variety of public and political matters, sponsors lectures and seminars, coordinates internship programs and fellowships, and conducts and publishes public policy and political research.
Elections have become a key focus of Madonna’s research and punditry.
“Every day, there’s a new angle [on the 2016 election] and 50 interpretations,” he said. “I will be putting politics in contemporary times in historical perspective, including how competitive elections have become; strengths and weaknesses in the Electoral College, and what states matter. I can go through a list of about 20 states that don’t matter because they’re so Republican or Democratic. Then I will review electoral groups that really matter.”
Before joining F&M in May 2004, Madonna taught and wrote about the history of American political parties and the American presidency at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, also located in Lancaster.
“In 1991, when polling became important, I said, ‘Why not here, at Millersville?’ ” Madonna said. “I did what I had to, to learn about being a pollster. I got a statistician, and then someone from Penn State to start the Center for Opinion Research.”
Bernard Yost became the head methodologist. Madonna and Yost launched the “Keystone Poll” in 1992 — the oldest survey produced exclusively in Pennsylvania — which he renamed the “Franklin & Marshall College Poll” in 2008. Its precursor had identified key issues in the 1991 U.S. Senate race between former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh and U.S. Senator Harris Wofford.
They were also important in the national election.
Before leaving Millersville for F&M 11 years ago, Madonna began writing about polls and politics.
“I am a political historian by education and a pollster by vocational change,” he said.
In addition to renaming the Keystone Poll in 2008, F&M initiated a partnership with Hearst TV to conduct national polls.
F&M’s Center for Opinion Research, directed by Yost, has become a full-scale survey research organization with a state-of-the-art call center and modern focus group facility that conducts scholarly research in public policy, voting behavior, healthcare, education and survey research methodologies, including the F&M College Poll.
Since 1992, the College Poll has been used as a key tool for teaching survey methodology and research design in government classes. Thousands of students have been trained in proper interviewing techniques.
Of the 40 to 50 polls Yost and his staff conduct per year, Madonna said that five to 10 are his election polls. The number varies depending on the election cycle.
Madonna also said the Center for Opinion Research does not take PAC money or political contributions; F&M funds it.
According to the F&M College Poll website, the survey results are in part comprised of “candidate match-ups, party identification and partisanship levels, candidate demographics, issue research, and the social and economic characteristic of voters.” College and graduate students, scholars in universities and think tanks, and a variety of print and television media have been using these results extensively. The New York Times has identified it as one of the most accurate polls in the U.S. during the 2012 elections.
Madonna provides numerous media outlets with political commentary. He hosts and moderates Pennsylvania Newsmakers, a Sunday morning interview and commentary show on WGAL-TV focused on state public policy issues and political battles. He is also a regular analyst for the station.
In addition, Madonna has served as a moderator for congressional, gubernatorial, state legislative and school board forums and debates. He has been a member of several governmental boards and commissions.
With Michael Young of Michael Young Strategic Research, Madonna publishes the biweekly “Politically Uncorrected” column, which appears in many newspapers and on two national websites. He also moderates The Political Express blog, which provides “in-depth analysis of politics, polls and political history.”
At F&M, Madonna continues writing about political and presidential history. His work, Pivotal Pennsylvania: Presidential Politics from FDR to the Twenty-First Century, was published as part of the Pennsylvania History Studies Series in 2008.
“What I most enjoy and always have, is interacting with the students,” Madonna said. “Nothing makes me happier than knowing a student has gone on and is happy and productive in all of their life.”