2016 Grand Final and Anti-Russian jury bias

A Russophone friend in Tallinn informed me recently that some in both the Estonian and Russian language media were convinced that Sergey Lazarev had had victory stolen from him by jury members: more than one journalist has said as much. This friend voted for Jamala and was pleased she won; nonetheless he felt that Sergey’s result wasn’t indicative of the quality of his entry.

Nor did Filip Kirkorov, Eurovision veteran and co-composer of You Are the Only One, who posted the following on Instagram:

split of jury and televote scores by country for Russia 2016

From Kirkorov’s Instragram https://www.instagram.com/p/BFbmkfbSDfs/

It is a stark contrast between Russia’s televote and juries scores. And at first glance it tells a troubling story. But rule number one in the data business: never over-interpret a single sample when there are more data available.

Russian Roulette

If we look at the data of Russia in Eurovision since we have had some combination of jury and televote scores—from 2009 onwards—the most obvious thing is that Russia tends to do well at Eurovision.

Year Jury score Televote score Combined Ranking
2009 67 118 91 11th
2010 63 107 90 11th
2011 25 138 77 16th
2012 94 332 259 2nd
2013* 5th 10th 174 5th
2014 70 132 89 7th
2015 241 286 303 2nd
2016 130 361 491 3rd

*split rankings released rather than split scores

In a contest that routinely has 38 or more entrants, few other countries have a 60 per cent plus record of top 10 results. Russia’s perfect qualification record is also a standout.

What is also apparent is that generally juries have been less enamoured of Russia’s entries. The gap for Sergey was 231 points between his jury and televote scores. In 2012 the Buranovskiye Babushki’s jury and televote differential was higher: 238 points. So one could argue there is something of a pattern where Russia does better in televoting than with juries.

Party For Everybody. Dance. Come on and Dance. Boom. Boom (courtesy EBU/eurovision.tv)

Except the pattern collapses in Vienna. Polina Gagarina’s A Million Voices was equally, massively popular with both televoters and juries. In fact, she was third with juries and second with televoters. Her combined score of 303 points is the highest runner-up score in the history of the Contest. Under today’s aggregated scoring system, the 2015 results would have been:

Country Televote (rank) Jury (rank) Combined (rank)
Sweden 279 (3rd) 363 (1st) 642 (1st)
Italy 366 (1st) 184 (6th) 550 (2nd)
Russia 286 (2nd) 241 (3rd) 527 (3rd)

Russia would have dropped to third from second overall. But Polina had a lot of support from juries. Six countries had Russia at the top of their televote rankings (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Israel, Latvia); five had Russia at the top of their jury rankings (Australia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Romania, Spain). The ex-Soviet bloc did not massively swing behind Russia; in fact, their juries did to an even lesser degree. Aside from Azerbaijan, the juries that had Russia first are not from within the russosphere.

Polina Gagarina’s Jury Bait Entry (courtesy EBU/eurovision.tv)

Juries versus Televoters

When considering scores year upon year at the Eurovision, the nature of the jury system should be an important consideration. Jurors can only serve one out of every three years—so there is no year upon year consistency in terms of who constructs this score component. Conversely, we can assume that a fair number of televoters vote in consecutive Grand Final televotes. So we should expect to see potentially more consistent patterns in televotes.

The pattern for Russia is that most years their entry gets 110-140 televote points, unless they send an excellent entry—particularly one with a high profile artist. Both Sergey Lazarev and Polina Gagarina are current stars in the russosphere. And in those years Russia’s televote goes up massively. And while many viewers loved the Babushki, few would argue that Party for Everybody is a musical masterpiece; its jury score reflects this.

Breaking it down, but still getting nowhere. Though 3rd’s pretty good (courtesy EBU/eurovision.tv)

Russia 2016 earned top televote scores from most of the ex-Soviet states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine), as well as Bulgaria, Germany and Serbia. Lithuania (8 points) and Georgia (8 points) were the only ex-Soviet states not to do so. The ex-Soviet juries were not at all generous with Russia: Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Ukraine all blanked Sergey. The Latvian jury gave him seven points, the Armenian jury only two. So even within the russosphere jury support for You Are the Only One was mostly weak.

Two Out of Three – Good, if not Good Enough

Russia certainly made a great choice in terms of artist for 2016. Sergey Lazarev is a genuine superstar. He was touring the ex-Soviet states in the run-up to Stockholm, giving himself and You Are the Only One an increased profile with the public. In terms of act and campaign, these were excellent decisions. What was missing is a great song. Polina had a great song and juries responded in kind. Transfer the 111 jury points differential from Polina (241 jury points) to Sergey (130 jury points) and we would be going to St Petersburg or Sochi rather than Kyiv in 2017.

2 Responses

  1. Martin says:

    Nice article where the stats back back up your nicely summed up sentence of “What was missing is a great song”. Spot on!

  2. John says:

    Cheers Martin!

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