F&M Poll Helps State, Nation Understand the Election

  • G. Terry Madonna, director of F&M’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs and professor of public affairs, addresses a student's question during a Sept. 27 Common Hour discussion titled "The 2012 Presidential Election: Money, Ideology and Personality." 

It runs like clockwork: The results of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll are released, and within minutes, the poll's eight media partners -- including the Philadelphia Daily News, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and local NBC affiliate WGAL Channel 8 -- publish stories analyzing the results.

Hours later, just about every major media outlet has its own story, and in the days and weeks that follow, the poll -- and its director, G. Terry Madonna -- are quoted in media outlets ranging from small weekly newspapers and local news websites to far-reaching media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Economist. Then, the news goes international, to outlets such as the United Kingdom's Guardian and the French version of the Huffington Post.

The latest F&M poll, released Oct. 31, was no exception. It showed President Barack Obama with a 4-percentage-point lead over his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney -- down from 10 percentage points in another F&M Poll completed at the end of September. The latest results have news reporters, bloggers, political pundits, national party leaders, think tanks and the F&M campus community talking about how Pennsylvania will figure in the Tuesday, Nov. 6, election, with most declaring it a swing state once again.

"The poll informs people of the issues and the changes that take place," said Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at the College. "It explains why elections are closer in the state and how confidence in how Romney would handle issues with the economy and his popularity have grown. It doesn't change the vote. It allows people to understand the changes in the political environment."

Madonna contributes to that understanding through media interviews -- as many as 20 per day in the days after F&M poll results are released -- through public appearances and through a syndicated column, which he co-authors with Michael Young, managing partner of Michael Young Strategic Research. The latest Madonna and Young column was featured on Real Clear Politics, a widely followed, nonpartisan website that explains the nuances of elections.

Longest-Running Pennsylvania Poll

The Franklin & Marshall College Poll (formerly the Keystone Poll) is the longest-running Pennsylvania statewide poll. Madonna created the poll in 1991, while he was affiliated with Millersville University. He hired Berwood Yost, who worked for Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg, to become the chief methodologist, kicking off a collaboration that has spanned more than two decades.

The poll gained popularity when it identified health care and the economy as key issues in a Pennsylvania Senate race, and those issues later figured prominently in the 1992 presidential election. The poll moved to F&M in 2003. The name officially changed in 2008.

Results Reach Far and Wide

The Center conducts between six and 12 polls per year -- depending on whether a presidential or gubernatorial campaign is in progress. In addition to providing a measure of voter sentiment about candidates and issues for news media, the poll, which is distributed to 1,700 subscribes and about 6,000 people through Facebook and Twitter, serves as a research tool for undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, and think tanks. Professors at F&M and other colleges use the poll in government classes, and  students use it in their independent research.

Yost, the director of the Center for Opinion Research and The Floyd Institute for Public Policy at F&M, is responsible for developing the methodology and conducting the poll. Madonna is responsible for reporting it and explaining it to media.

Madonna's role is to "contextualize" the poll, Yost said.

Chris Borick, a professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown, Pa., described the F&M Poll as "a very influential and highly respected poll, both in Pennsylvania and nationally."

"The F&M poll is well-regarded within polling circles. When other pollsters see it, there is an immediate trust," Borick said. "There's a confidence that these are good numbers."

The F&M poll also resonates in surrounding states, Madonna noted.

"The beauty of the relationships we have is that they cover huge areas, not just in Pennsylvania," he said. "Delaware gets a lot of news from Philly, and Pittsburgh is close to Ohio and West Virginia."

The presidential race gets the most attention, but the poll also tracks public opinion on issues such as a proposed voter identification law, gay marriage, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's approval rating and general feelings about the economy. For more information and the latest results, visit the Franklin & Marshall College Poll

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