Ah, Eurovision. It’s the time of the year for power ballads, glittery performances, and some serious scrutiny of European political sentiment. The Eurovision Song Contest is an international competition where each participating country enters a musical performance, and they get paired down up to a final 26 contests who duke it out at a final live television show. Votes are awarded from each country, before the winner is crowned. While the music and performance is sometimes interesting, often extravagant, what interests us today is how the winner is selected. For the first 40 years of the history of the contest, each country would appoint a jury panel who distributed points to their favourite songs. However, since 1997 a form of split representation has been used, where countries combine a jury vote and an audience vote via telephone or text message to allocate their points. Since every participating country gives points to other countries’ songs, who favours whom has been classic fodder for media articles the night following the Eurovision final for years.

What can we learn? The dual voting system is particularly interesting, because it allows us to disentangle the preferences of the appointed jury and the collective sentiment of the millions-strong audience. While the former can be considered a professional body and (in theory) guided by aesthetic considerations on the quality of the music and performance, the latter is swayed certainly by the songs, but also by attitudes the public hold towards the countries each singer represents. To test this idea, we explored the publicly available data for the past six contests, going back to 2014, by comparing the voting patterns in each participating country between the jury and public vote rankings.

Here we see the distribution of the votes awarding countries (rows) to each country with a performance in the grand final (columns), for the 2019 contest. Eurovision uses a rank voting system, where each country ranks their top 12 performances, with 12 being the maximum number of points awarded per country. In addition, and country awards points through both a jury panel and a public vote. For example, the Netherlands received high-ranking votes from many countries, which propelled it to victory, whereas Georgia received few votes from a handful of countries. Interestingly, we do see examples of jury vs. public discrepancy, where the runner-up Norway received high-value votes from a wide field of countries in the public vote, but was largely panned by the jury vote across the board. If we compute the difference between the jury and public votes, we get a map like this.

Now it is more obvious that the public at large enjoyed Norway’s performance. The respective juries from each country, not so much, who seemed the prefer Azerbaijan over and above the preferences of their voting public. Next, let us take the average jury vs. public discrepancy for each awarding country, and look at the long-term trends.

This figure shows the mean yearly difference in jury vs. public votes (black dot) and the year-on-year variance (blue bar) for each participating country, for the period 2014-2019. Note that some countries have only taken part in one contest in this period, so no variability is shown. With this metric, we see Bulgaria has the largest divergence in votes – its public and judge panels disagree, on average, more than any other Eurovision participating nation. Cypriots, on the other hand, tend to agree the most.

One last question we will ask is, which countries do the public and judges disagree the most over? For each awarding country, we will look at which performance has the highest disagreement in votes, and tally up the number of times performers from that country generates the highest disagreement. For the 2014-2019 period, we get the following result.

We can now safely crown Albania as the country who, overall, generates the most disparate feelings between the public and juries during Eurovision.

This little exercise allows us to inspect the trends in opinion of, yes, a small event, but over a large number of participating individuals across a vast geographical area. While the geopolitical consequences of a song contest might be limited, it is a valuable approach that can be leveraged when examining trends in public opinion, particularly when large datasets can reveal useful information about transnational differences and similarities.

—————————————————————————————————

The voting history of the Eurovision song contest votes for the period 2014-2019 is available here, with only the grand final considered in this article. Votes for the 2019 contest are correct as of  22nd May 2019, following changes to the Belarusian jury votes.