“Not nearly as much as they should. What’s fascinating in Pennsylvania: The biggest reaction was not to Bonusgate where there were more than 20 convictions. That didn’t matter much to them. People will decry it, but there’s not a lot of trust. It’s a plague on both [parties’] houses. After the [late night pay hike] vote in 2005, 54 new members [of the General Assembly] were elected. It was the biggest turnover in modern history. That mattered.”

How a scholar should engage in the political process:

“I have a role to provide balance, history, and perspective. History is retrospective; it’s not about the future. I’m always cautious. When I do speeches, they’re filled with historic analogies and polling data. I’m not partisan.”

Still, standing so close to the political fire also makes Madonna a person likely to catch a few sparks. And he caught a few earlier this year when Santorum called him a “Democratic hack” after the professor reported polling showing former Gov. Mitt Romney had caught Santorum in his home state.

“If a candidate is running 20 points behind, I have an obligation to say why they’re 20 points behind,” said Madonna, who noted Factcheck.org’s favorable evaluation of his accuracy and record. “My job is to explain. I understand I can become part of the story. I have to live with that and be scrupulously independent.”

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Ken Knelly served as metro editor at The Times-Tribune in Scranton and as senior editor for government and business at The State in Columbia, S.C. He owns Clearberries, a communications consulting and training firm, and works for a Christian college in Northeastern Pennsylvania.