Politics, loyalties play role in Eurovision wins, except for Israel
Musical numbers

Politics, loyalties play role in Eurovision wins, except for Israel

Data analysis always shows that votes for the annual song contest are closely tied to geography, history and shared culture. So how does Israel win?

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The UK's performance at Eurovision 2018 was interrupted by a protester. (Courtesy Dewayne Barkley/CC BY-SA 4.0)
The UK's performance at Eurovision 2018 was interrupted by a protester. (Courtesy Dewayne Barkley/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Eurovision may be just a song contest, but politics — and related data analysis — has long played a role in guessing and determining the eventual winner. Except, apparently, when it comes to Israel.

The latest round of number crunching comes from an online casino company in Malta, Casumo Ltd., which looked at how the song contest is heavily affected by the relations between the participating countries, which eventually weighs on the final votes.

Politics certainly play their part, e.g., Ukraine’s singer pulling out of the contest because of a conflict with Russia, Turkey’s boycott regarding LGBT singers whom the country deems unsuitable for children, and the BDS calls to boycott this year’s contest, which is in Israel due to Netta Barzilai’s win with “Toy” last year in Portugal.

In the annual song contest, one singer or group from each country performs. Each country ranks their favorite songs by awarding them points, but cannot vote for their own representative. Two sets of points are awarded, one from a professional jury and the other from a public vote. The maximum score, known as douze points, or 12 points, comes for the favorite of the jury and the public.

But while countries often vote in blocs and support fellow countries for geographic, cultural or political reasons, Israel doesn’t seem to benefit from any voting patterns, although it has won the Eurovision four times.

Israel doesn’t share close historical, geographical or social ties with any other competing Eurovision country, but it has won the song contest four times (Courtesy Casumo)

It’s not all that strange, according to William Lee Adams, founder of Wiwibloggs, a website and YouTube channel focusing on the Eurovision Song Contest, who commented on Casumo’s findings.

“In recent years the country that has won Eurovision has typically had the best song, the best performer, the best performance, or some combination of the three,” said Adams. “That’s not to say some jurors don’t have political leanings or that some votes aren’t influenced by shared cultural ties. But ultimately a memorable performance by a stellar singer with a touching song outweighs everything.”

In other words, a country can get much support from its bloc neighbors, but if it doesn’t have votes from outside the bloc or a singer with charisma, it doesn’t stand a chance.

The data analyzed by Casumo, which looked at voting records of every Eurovision final between 1956 and 2018, offered some unexpected results: for example, Romania and Moldova are the biggest point allies. Less unexpected is the finding that Russia and Ukraine, while neighbors, are rarely friends.

The countries that have favored each other the most often include Armenia and Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, Latvia and Estonia, Slovenia and Croatia, Portugal and Ukraine, Estonia and Sweden, Portugal and Spain, and Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Certain countries gave maximum points to the same country nine times or more and share strong cultural ties, such as Cyprus and Greece, or joint histories, such as Belarus and Russia, or similar social norms, like the Scandinavian countries.

Out of the 20 countries participating, Israel ranked 20th for maximum votes received. It doesn’t show up in any of the voting blocs or loyal countries. Again, it’s not the most popular country up there.

The Nordic countries appear to have voted as a bloc the most, even more often than the ex-Soviet states, French-speaking countries or ex-Yugoslavian countries.

Lee Adams said he didn’t believe the votes are political at all, but thinks they stem from shared cultural and musical traditions.

“The way a Greek performer emotes likely resonates more strongly with a Cypriot than with a Brit simply because there is so much inter-cultural dialogue between the two nations,” said Adams. “When 15-year-old girls in Moldova and Poland pick up their phones to vote, I don’t think they’re considering the inner workings of Ukrainian politics or Iceland’s attitude toward EU fishing policy. Those who cite political voting typically do so when their country performs poorly.”

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