Pollsters are taking a beating for botching another big presidential election. Most projected a Joe Biden landslide, but the result was much closer, as predicted by the highly accurate IBD/TIPP poll.
One star continues to shine: Raghavan Mayur predicted Biden would win by 4% in the IBD/TIPP poll. (The final margin was slightly higher.) Both The Washington Post and Fortune named his poll the most accurate in the 2020 election.
And 2020 is just the latest example of Mayur’s prescience. He accurately called every U.S. presidential election since 2004. His predictions often leave him far outside the mainstream — a lone voice in the sea of conjecture. But confidence in his data and methods give Mayur courage to stand apart from the crowd. And it also makes him right. British weekly The Spectator called Mayur the one “pollster who doesn’t suck at his job.”
Challenging the consensus often carries risks, though. Mayur puts his reputation on the line every time he separates from the herd. But he’s turned being right about the future into a science.
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Mayur, 62, runs TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, a market research consultancy in Ramsey, N.J. He founded the firm in 1992 and refers to it as a “thinkery” that takes a creative approach to traditional polling.
Four years after launching his business, Mayur was conducting market research for Editor & Publisher, an industry publication, when Investor’s Business Daily cited his findings in an article. That led to a meeting with IBD editors, who hired him to develop a poll of business leaders.
By 2000, Mayur started providing political polling in a partnership with IBD. His IBD/TIPP presidential poll consistently ranks at the top in predictive results. And it’s the most accurate poll over the past five presidential elections. In 2016, it was one of only two national polls to predict the presidential election’s outcome correctly.
Because he often reaches contrarian conclusions, Mayur emphasizes the importance of maintaining a disciplined, resilient mindset. He lets the data guide him, even if that makes him an outlier.
“In 2016, when I called Trump correctly, it was a big deal for me,” he said. “Fifteen pollsters showed Hillary Clinton up very comfortably. I was the lone man out. If I get it wrong, it’s the end of my career.”
That harrowing experience reinforced Mayur’s commitment to stand by his work and reject the prevailing wisdom. He views it as a test of his conviction that he passed.
Break Big Problems Into Small Ones
His ability to break down the polling process into bite-size chunks helps as well. By isolating each challenge and tackling it head-on, he’s able to solve small problems one by one.
“A poll has many moving parts,” Mayur said. “The mind can only focus on one thing at a time. If you have a huge problem to solve, you cannot do it in one shot. It’s better to divide it into subproblems and then solve each subproblem.”
For example, the IBD/TIPP pollster treats each aspect of poll design as a separate project: composing the questionnaire, identifying the right sample of people to contact, maximizing the quality of data collection, applying sound models to the data that’s collected and defining the most likely type of person to vote.
Even in his personal life, Mayur pushes himself to make incremental gains to score small wins. When walking or bicycling, for instance, he’ll exercise for an extra minute or two before stopping.
“Always look for a smidgen of improvement on a daily basis,” he said.
Some hard-charging leaders serve as their own worst enemy. They berate themselves for every mistake, even minor ones, and get ensnared in the tyranny of the urgent. They race around all day bounding from conflict to conflict, when they’re better off delegating or staying above the fray.
Mayur maintains a sense of detachment to keep grounded and focused on what matters most.
“You have to be like a lotus flower,” he said. “It grows in muddy water, but what blooms is a beautiful flower. You’ve got to cut the noise that’s all around you” and clear your mind so that you produce great results.
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A native of India, Mayur moved to the U.S. in January 1986 to earn a Master’s degree in environmental engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology. He spent his first few weeks living in an apartment above a bar on Washington Street in Newark, renting from a tarot card reader.
“I heard people drunk and fighting late at night,” he said.
But he made the most of his education, thirsting for knowledge and finding mentors. In one of his first jobs after college, as a civil engineer, he worked for a successful engineer in the construction industry.
“For 1-1/2 years, I watched him do his tasks,” Mayur recalled. “I’d watch how he thinks and applies his experience” to solve problems.
Young professionals benefit from such learning, he says. The key is finding a wise guide as Mayur did.
“A guru is a remover of darkness who can show you the shortest path,” he said. “You have to show reverence to your gurus.”
Mayur often works while listening to the Gayatri mantra on YouTube. The repetition soothes him and enhances his mental focus.
“Suppose you’re angry or sad,” he said. “You need to escape that negative emotion and get into a positive mindset. One catalyst can be music. I use a mantra” to relieve stress and operate at peak productivity.
Stay Humble Even Amid Success
An openness to change gives Mayur an edge. Reflecting on two decades as a political pollster, he remembers conducting surveys primarily via landline phones in the early 2000s. He soon adapted to the rise in mobile phones and online communication.
“In 2020, mail-in voting posed a new challenge,” he said.
Through it all, he stuck with survey sampling and scoring methods developed by George Gallup more than 50 years ago. Relying on a strong foundation for his methodology enables Mayur to withstand ever-changing technologies and consumer habits to maintain accurate polling results.
Mayur hasn’t let success go to his head. He’s open to input from others and heeds their suggestions.
When formulating his 2020 survey, he discussed the content with a longtime friend, S.P. Kothari. A professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, Kothari proposed asking whether respondents favor closing the economy to control the pandemic.
“I thought how they responded to that question might show how they’d vote, and he agreed,” Kothari said. “Humility is one of his traits. He listens well.”
IBD/TIPP Raghavan Mayur’s Keys:
- President of TechnoMetrica, a market research consulting firm. His polls have correctly called every presidential election since 2004.
- Overcame: Sense of isolation — and risk to his career — when his polls indicate outcomes far outside the mainstream.
- Lesson: To solve big problems, break them into pieces you tackle one by one. “If you have a huge problem to solve, you cannot do it in one shot. It’s better to divide it into subproblems and then solve each subproblem.”
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