With Russia with love: the Russian coat tail theory

Since 2000 Russia has been a Eurovision powerhouse…mostly: one win, runner-up four times, and five other top 10 results. 2018 was the first time they failed to qualify for a Grand Final. For 2019 they have queued up Sergey Lazarev, who finished third in 2016 with You Are the Only One. Amazing staging, great performance, somewhat dated song. With Scream he seems to be aiming for more jury credibility, which is what kept him away from the trophy that year.

Like Serbia and Sweden, Russia’s being the figurehead of a large voting bloc—and their position at the core of the Russophone cultural sphere (or russosphere)—has benefitted greatly from friends and diaspora voting.

But about the rest of the russosphere, in terms of qualifying for a year’s Grand Final? In this article I try to see if there’s any pattern with respect to the point scoring of other Eurovision participating nations broadcasters from the russosphere.

For our purposes we have included former Soviet states with a potential Russophone voting constituency: Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova. Israel also has a large Russophone community, so they are in my analysis too. Germany has a large (over 3 million) Russophone population, but Germany does not have to qualify out of a semi-final, so I have not included them in my analysis. That gives us 10 bloc members.

Let’s jump in.

Method

First, I started by aggregating the semi-final scores of all qualifiers since 2010, with a couple of exclusions:

  • In 2017 Russia did not participate in the Kyiv event (let’s not go there again)
  • In 2018 Russia failed to qualify for the first time out of its semi-final.

However, since there were russosphere members in the same semi-final we have crunched those 2018 numbers for the rest of the bloc.

We looked at how many of these countries qualified from the bloc. We didn’t care whether they were 1st or 10th. We also didn’t care how the votes split between jury and televoters. As in previous score or ordinal ranking analyses for 58points.com we used the actual rankings: in 2008 and 2009, where there was a jury-support-swap sometimes between the 10th televote qualifier (almost always North Macedonia) and something the juries preferred, we have used the precise scores and rankings and ignored the swapping.

This was our coat tails hypothesis: that being in the same semi-final as mother Russia might benefit other bloc members, in terms of qualification from a semi-final. This is based on

Russia’s presence—in recent years with established stars like Lazarev, Dima Bilan and Polina Gagarina—means increased attention in the russosphere, which helps other bloc delegations performing that same night.

Results

The first pattern that emerges is how strong a semi-final performer Russia has been. Prior to 2017, they were at or near the top of the semi-final rankings in most years:

  • Won semi-final: 2012, 2015, 2016
  • Runner-up in semi-final: 2013
  • Otherwise top 10 in semi-final: 2010 (7th), 2011 (9th), 2014 (6th)

That is a remarkably consistent level of success. Which makes sense when you are the focus of an extensive cultural sphere and your music industry sends popular and professional artists. And nanas: who doesn’t love nanas?

Next, we looked at how the qualifications from the bloc split across the semi-finals—and which of these semi-finals included Russia. Here’s a synopsis…but you can skip past this list for the analysis:

  1. 2010: Russia qualified from semi-final one, as did Belarus and Moldova. From semi-final two five bloc members qualified: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Ukraine, Georgia and Israel.
  2. 2011: Russia qualified from semi-final one, as did Azerbaijan, Lithuania and Georgia. From semi-final two, another two bloc members qualified: Ukraine, and Moldova.
  3. 2012: Russia qualified from semi-final one, as did Moldova. From semi-final two, three bloc members qualified: Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine.
  4. 2013:  Russia qualified from semi-final one, as did Moldova, Ukraine, Lithuania, Estonia, and Belarus. From semi-final two, three bloc members qualified: Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
  5. 2014: Russia qualified from semi-final one, as did Azerbaijan, Armenia and Ukraine. From semi-final two, one other bloc member qualified: Belarus.
  6. 2015: Russia qualified from semi-final one, as did Estonia, Armenia and Georgia. From semi-final two four bloc members qualified: Latvia, Israel, Lithuania and Azerbaijan. Ukraine did not participate in the 2015 Contest.
  7. 2016: Russia qualified from semi-final one, as did Azerbaijan, and Armenia. From semi-final two, five bloc members qualified: Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Israel and Georgia.
  8. 2017: Russia did not participate.  Three bloc members qualified from semi-final one: Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Two qualified from the second semi-final: Israel and Azerbaijan. [excluded from analysis]
  9. 2018: Russia failed to qualify from semi-final two (they were ranked 15th), but Moldova and Ukraine both did. From the first semi-final Israel, Estonia and Lithuania qualified.

There are a few patterns here. First, in all but one year, Russia was in the first semi-final—and qualified each time. In their singular second semi-final appearance they did not qualify. That is more interesting than substantive: few expected the musically week 2018 entry to get out of its semi-final. This year Sergey Lazarev shouldn’t be worried about competing on Thursday night rather than Tuesday (except for questions of vocal rest).

Let’s look at the aggregate splits per year for qualifiers from the bloc:

Year (# qualified from bloc) SF1 SF2 Favoured
2010
(8)
Russia, Belarus,
Moldova
Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Armenia,
Ukraine, Israel
Without Russia
2011
(5)
Russia, Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Lithuania
Ukraine, Moldova With
Russia
2012
(5)
Russia, Moldova Lithuania,
Estonia, Ukraine
Without Russia
2013
(10)
Russia, Belarus,
Moldova, Israel, Ukraine, Estonia
Lithuania,
Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Armenia
With
Russia
2014
(5)
Russia, Armenia Azerbaijan,
Ukraine
Belarus With
Russia
2015
(8)
Russia, Estonia
Georgia,
Armenia,
Latvia, Israel,
Azerbaijan,
Lithuania
With
Russia
2016
(8)
Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia Georgia, Ukraine, Israel, Lithuania, Latvia   Without Russia
2017
(5)
Ukraine hosted
Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia   Azerbaijan, Israel   Russia did not participate
2018*
(5)
Israel, Lithuania, Estonia   Moldova, Ukraine Russia failed to qualify

What we get is a rather even split: across four years those in the same semi-final as Russia were more likely to qualify; in three other years, those in the other semi-final were more likely to qualify.

So, there’s no skew towards Russia bringing along its bloc members into the Grand Final. Mother Russia’s coattails do not offer a consistent advantage, beyond wider bloc membership.

But these data do show that this bloc always gets at least half its members into the Grand Final. In 2013 every single bloc member qualified for the Grand Final! We are not arguing that bloc membership alone determines an entry’s fate. But these sorts of patterns validate why the EBU uses its “pots” method to split voting blocs across both semi-finals. Otherwise, unaligned participating broadcasters struggle, results-wise.

Not all theories work

It would be very tempting here at 58points.com to only publish analyses that validate our hypotheses, which is the norm in academic publishing. But testing theories is worth discussing, even if the theory itself falls over. And we’re not a peer-reviewed journal. J  Hence publishing this one.

Do you have any theories you’d like us to test? Add them to the comments and I’ll see what I can do.

2 Responses

  1. Keley Ann says:

    I’d like to see some work on how the Sammarinese “televote” is calculated – the EBU claims its from a mixture of other countries’ votes, but this has never quite looked right to me.

  2. John says:

    Last year they said they were willing to share their model with us (I was writing in Lisbon for ESCInsight.com) …but never did. It’s a legit question.

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