Eurovision 2007: The Block Voting Problem

Eurovision 2007: The Block Voting Problem

Created 2007-05-14. Last update 2007-05-16.

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I've heard and read a lot of Internet complaints of block voting after the Eurovision 2007 song contest. Is there some truth to these complaints or are they just sour grapes sounds from losers?

Let's find out.

Recreating the Divide

To see whether block voting is a real problem, I decided to divide Europe in the two pieces most people are complaining about this year: The "old" Eurovision countries as opposed to the former socialist countries, including the new splinter countries. So, I wrote a Perl script to tally the votes when some of the countries have been excluded (try the program out yourself, it's fun). Then I combined the results to a nice table with the actual voting results, the "Western" votes, and the formerly socialist "Eastern" votes.

For further comparison, I also took a smaller area as a third group. This is the area I know best, because I live in it, namely the Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.

Here is how I divided the countries in a true cold war era fashion, plus The Nordic Dimension as a separate control group:
The WestThe EastNordic Dimension
Andorra Albania Denmark
Austria Armenia Finland
Belgium Belarus Iceland
Cyprus Bosnia-Herzegovina Norway
Denmark Bulgaria Sweden
Finland Croatia
France Czech Republic
Germany Estonia
Greece FYR Macedonia
Iceland Georgia
Ireland Hungary
Israel Latvia
Malta Lithuania
Norway Moldova
Portugal Montenegro
Spain Poland
Sweden Romania
Switzerland Russia
Netherlands Serbia
Turkey Slovenia
United Kingdom Ukraine

Yay, it's a draw! We have an equal number of Eastern and Western European countries!

If you look carefully you'll see that the words East and West are misleading at best. Some of the "Western" countries, like Finland, Israel and Turkey, lie pretty far to the right on the European map. But bear with me for the moment.

The East/West Cold War Table

So, here is the table with votes from all countries, as well as the votes from the new ESC cold war Western and Eastern blocks, as well as The Nordic Dimension:

CountryAll countriesThe WestThe EastNordic Dim.
PositionPoints PositionPoints PositionPoints PositionPoints
Serbia 1.268 1.128 1.140 1. 45
Ukraine 2.235 2.111 2.124 6. 20
Russia 3.207 4. 84 3.123 8. 16
Turkey 4.163 2.111 12. 52 5. 31
Bulgaria 5.157 5. 80 5. 77 13. 5
Belarus 6.145 15. 38 4.107 14. 4
Greece 7.139 8. 69 6. 70 9. 10
Armenia 8.138 7. 76 9. 62 - 0
Hungary 9.128 6. 79 14. 49 2. 42
Moldova 10.109 12. 50 10. 59 12. 5
Bosnia-Herzegovina 11.106 10. 56 13. 50 7. 19
Georgia 12. 97 16. 31 7. 66 11. 7
Romania 13. 84 9. 58 16. 26 - 0
FYR Macedonia 14. 73 23. 8 8. 65 - 0
Slovenia 15. 66 21. 13 11. 53 - 0
Latvia 16. 54 18. 24 15. 30 15. 3
Finland 17. 53 13. 41 19. 12 4. 32
Sweden 18. 51 11. 51 - 0 2. 42
Germany 19. 49 14. 40 21. 9 10. 9
Spain 20. 43 17. 27 17. 16 - 0
Lithuania 21. 28 20. 16 18. 12 - 0
France 22. 19 22. 8 20. 11 - 0
United Kingdom 23. 19 19. 19 - 0 - 0
Ireland 24. 5 - 0 22. 5 - 0

If we look at the top votes from the West and the East, there are surprisingly little differences. Serbia, Ukraine and Russia are in the Top-4 of both lists, and in the same order. Also Bulgaria, Greece and Armenia are in the Top-10 of both lists, so the two lists have six common members. Which, considering the diverse European culture backgrounds, is not that bad in my opinion.

The top countries that differ most from the norm are Turkey, which is second in the Western list but only 12th in the Eastern list. Conversely, Belarus is 4th on the Eastern list, but 15th on the Western.

The entry with the biggest position difference is Sweden, whom the West block respects with an 11th position while the Eastern block refuses to give them a single point. Nevertheless, neither block would have given Sweden direct entry to the 2008 finals.

If we look at the Nordic Dimension, there is more variation. This is statistically as expected, because less countries means more random variation. Not enough to take Serbia its win, though. It should, however, be noted that there definitely exists such a thing as neighbourly voting. Out of Sweden's 51 points, 42 comes from the Nordic countries, which means the other 37 European countries award Sweden with only 9 points! Almost as bad, only 20 of Finland's 52 points come from outside of the Nordic Dimension. Even of these 20, 10 come from Finland's friendly Southern neighbours and friends Estonia and Lithuania.


So, is there a sinister plot where East only votes for East while the West votes for the best? I started with the assumption that there would be a huge difference in "capitalist" and "socialist" votes, but as I got my comparison program working, I got a big surprise. The lists were surprisingly similar, with some notable anomalies.

This is not to say that neighbours don't vote for each other. To some degree it is only natural that you tend to vote more for people close to you. You share the same culture, you may know the artists, you may understand the language, you might even work and live in a neighbour country! Familiar music feels more comfortable. That's life and there is really nothing wrong with it. If there was an absolute, infallible opinion on the performances, there would be no need for televoting, and we'd need only a computer to show us that resulta right after last song has ended.

Another thing is that while you may gain or lose some positions depending on whether you happen to have the right neighbours, there really is only one way to secure a win: you have to get votes from everybody. Think about it: In 2006, Finland's Lordi got an average of 7.89 points from each of the 37 other voting countries. This year Serbia's Marija Serifovic got an average of 6.54 from 41 countries. With those kind of averages you just cannot afford to get many zeros or even low scores. You have to please pretty much everyone.

If the West wants better positions in the Eurovision Song Contest 2008, there basically exist two options. Because I've shown it is not enough to prevent Eastern countries from voting, we should also exclude them from competing. Throw them out of EBU, says I! Then we could have the "good old" ESCs with a real symphony orchestra and performers with feet nailed to the floor (required by the rules, of course). Additional plus: we'd probably also get some real diplomatic trouble between the East and the West, so we could begin a retreat to the good old days of our youth when the Easterners knew their place: behind the iron curtain in their own Intervision Song Contest.

The other option, which admittedly needs a little effort, is to make better Western songs/performances that appeal to everybody. If there is will, it really can be done, even by a country that has never had any success. Lordi's 2006 landslide victory proves that. Try to think of something excellent that no-one has tried before. By trying something new you may fail miserably. Then again, you just might succeed. Don't be satisfied with what you did last year. Stay hungry!

Oh, and if you make a novelty act, make sure it's not based on the assumption that everyone in Europe understands the finer points of both your language and culture. UK: think about the difference between Scooch and Verka, or between Daz and Lordi.

Thank you for listening.

PS. Personal Opinions On Some of the Entries

All in all I think the quality of the songs had gone way up from last year. I just checked the all-too-bland 2006 entries which seems to confirm this. While almost all were playing it totally safe last year, this year we had even new countries like Georgia putting in daring entries. In 2006 it was Lordi + also-rans. However, this year there were many songs that I could actually listen to, even repeatedly.

Personally I didn't care about Serbia's winning song, but it would have won in both the West and the East. Europe has spoken, so who am I to tell it is wrong? And I honestly credit the song for being beautifully sung in their own language. And it was off-format both as a song and as a performance. Perhaps it was the performance, or the lack of it, that set this song apart? There is one common denominator with this song and the winner of 2006: both have strong religious overtones.

Ukraine is another story. Verka is supposedly popular in the East, and while I had never even heard her/him before the final, that damn accordion melody just wouldn't leave my head. Not even after the three next entries had been played. So I annoyed my friends no end by intermittedly singing the tune every few minutes for the rest of the night (alternating with the catchiest phrase of the evening: "shake it up, shekerim"). So I fully see the appeal in this "song". "Me English nix verstechen..." is certainly going to play when we have the next company sauna party!

Of real songs my favourite was Bulgaria's drumming duo that opened the semifinal powerfully and managed to finish 5th. Georgia's Björk carbon copy was also good; excellent vocal skills and material to make use of it. Romania's multi-lingual ljubi-love folk tune was simplistic enough to be remembered, and it did sound a bit like Loituma's Internet hit Ievan Polkka (Ieva's Polka), which is never a bad thing. Get these guys to play in a restaurant and I'll dance on the table!

Russia's entry sounds to me like a very generic Eurovision song, but that didn't prevent both the West and East from voting it. Well, ok, same thing with the shakin' shekerim of Turkey, but for some reason I accept the Turkish effort better. Belarus's Koldun's plastic appearance sent shivers through my spine, and not in a good way. Yechh.

I didn't assume Hungary's blues would manage as high as it did. In my opinion, there are pretty many good blues songs already in existence, and this didn't really add anything new to it. Not bad, but an unsubstantial song if you ask me.

I can't really feel sorry for Sweden's tragic 18th position. First of all, 2007 was not the time for Abba, Herreys and Carola all in one. Second, Swedish newspapers crying bloody murder and complaining how Finns destroyed their entry by doing everything wrong are always entertaining. The fault is never with the song or the artist. Third, this is arguably the technically worst-sounding song on the official CD: it's practically monophonic mush. No space nor punch. Only the clipping on Hungary's entry is more disturbing.

I'm happy no-one pushed the button when time came to vote for Israel. It's bad enough that Swedes are crying bloody murder afterwards, but these whiners tried to get as much screen time as possible by doing it before the event. Luckily that stunt backfired.

Now that I remember... Note to self: buy and donate a truckload of panties for the poor young women in Molvan... Moldova. Really nice voice, though.

For the first time in the history of ESC, Finland got a position that was lower than my expectations (which are usually pretty low for good historical reasons). While I think that Thunderstone would have had a smashing entry with their runner-up heavy metal song Face in the Mirror, this wasn't too bad a song and performance. I readily admit that most of the female artists were technically way ahead of Hanna and could thus take on much more demanding material. Not that this kind of thing mattered last year. Then the song and lyrics were perhaps too aggressive. ESC winners tend not to be too negative (longing is ok, rage is not). And interviews in English supposedly went in a bad way before the competition. Still, my guess was that a Top-10 position for the only rock song in the final would be within reach. Well, that wasn't to be. But at least we stayed ahead of our dear Big Brother of the West. Plus we get the advantage of being in the semi-final next year.

Note to UK: your naughty jokes are understood by less than 1% of Europeans looking at the ESC and appreciated by even fewer. I did't even notice there were "jokes" before I listened to the CD with earphones after the competition. Then there is the title. My English is pretty good, and still I had to make a web search to learn what Flying the Flag means, this too after the competition. Other Europeans won't bother. If they want fun, they'll vote for Dancing Lasha Tumbai.

Now for the case of Iceland. Why send believably ugly heavy metal guys to sing a stupid power ballad? You had the looks, but where were your balls?

Finally, I actually liked Czech's raspy and thorny rock song that had the dubious honour of getting only a single point in the semifinal and thus being left to the absolute last position. I feel sorry for you guys, you weren't really that bad at all. Same goes for France, and perhaps even Cyprus's italodisco bit Comme Ci Comme Ca.

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©2007 Henrik Herranen. For republication permission, contact the author.