G. Terry Madonna doesn't view himself as having power in the Pennsylvania political arena.
He's a teacher, and his job includes making research and insights publicly available. He returns as many calls as he can from the media, no matter how big or small the outlet.
Along that path to becoming one of the biggest names in Pennsylvania politics because of his polling data, media appearances and perspective, Madonna appears to break many of the rules in the talking-head era.
He hedges everything he says instead of making bold predictions.
He is not a partisan.
And he relies on the long perspective of history in lieu of just the evident facts of the moment, including his take on the perceived divisiveness in today's public policy sphere.
Madonna, now director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and the F&M Poll at Lancaster County-based Franklin & Marshall College, will reference events from 80 years ago and 150 years ago to give his take on the issue.
It's always been there. After all, he said, "We had the Civil War."
But until the 1930s and President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, an American could go through life and not even realize there was a federal government.
"Now these divisions matter a lot more, because of the involvement of government in our lives," Madonna said.
Madonna's career has been a mix of studying, teaching and writing about American studies, politics and Pennsylvania history, and he said he found the commonwealth to be a large and fascinating topic of interest.
Along the way, he started a public opinion poll in 1991 while working at Lancaster County-based Millersville University, at a time when only one other such state poll existed, he said.
"I guess one interview led to other interviews," Madonna said of the growth of his fame.
Today, he gets a large number of calls; about 70 percent of them are about Pennsylvania.
The rest are from elsewhere. After the first presidential debate Oct. 3 between candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, his quotes on the event ended up in Sri Lanka, Madonna said.
Availability is one thing, but Madonna said he doesn't seek out being quoted. So part of why his opinion is sought out by others might be that people are searching for someone to explain the background of political happenings or why something is occurring, Madonna said.
He can offer a view with perspective at a time when the trend on television has been toward featuring two people talking spin — though there is nothing wrong with having point-counterpoint debate, he said.
Part of what makes Madonna so successful at what he does is that he can take complicated political questions and issues and explain them to people, said Joseph Karlesky, the Honorable and Mrs. John C. Kunkel professor of government at F&M.
Their offices are one floor away from each other on campus, and they have known each other for at least 35 years.
"He has the academic background without being burdened with the academic jargon," Karlesky said. "And that is why he is so successful as a commentator."
But success as a commentator does not mean Madonna tells people whom to vote for, he said. He empowers people to understand hard decisions that have to be made and maybe see the issues in ways they wouldn't have otherwise.
"Information that is accurate is always useful," Karlesky said. "There is never enough accurate information and cogent explanation."
Madonna's take is sought out by more than just politicos.
When it came time to put together York-based manufacturing resource group Mantec Inc.'s annual event this fall — right before the presidential election — politics related to manufacturing was the chosen topic and Madonna was part of it, President and CEO John Lloyd said.
A lot of people hear information about the national political picture, so what Madonna in particular can bring is a perspective about what is happening in Pennsylvania and the region and about the state's impact on the outcome of the national election, Lloyd said — even when that opinion — which at the time was that Obama was far enough ahead that Pennsylvania wasn't expected to be a big player — didn't play very well with an audience that leaned Republican, he said.
One of the frustrations in the business community is the uncertainty that comes from having two distinct choices this fall and the uncertainty that comes with not knowing what the outcome will be.
"I'm looking forward to post- Nov. 6," Lloyd said.
About G. Terry Madonna
Education: bachelor’s in social science, Millersville University, 1964; master’s in political history, University of Delaware, 1967; Ph.D. in political history, University of Delaware, 1975
Family: Wife Maribeth; daughter Robin Madonna Souder and son-in-law Blair Souder; son Brintan Madonna and daughter-in-law Shari Madonna; grandchildren Dylan Souder, Nicole Souder and Blake George Madonna.
Current residence: Manheim Township, Lancaster County
First job: Coach and counselor while a student at Millersville for the Lancaster Boys Club
Current job: Professor of public policy and director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and the F&M Poll at Franklin & Marshall College
Last book you read: “The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson” by Robert Caro
Guiding philosophy: “To my thousands of past students, I would say pursue your dreams, work hard and enjoy life, and give something back to your community. I have tried to live by that credo.”