Is the Eurovision song contest rigged?

There has been a lot of moaning in the UK press that the Eurovision song contest is rigged. Specifically that countries are voting for each other in geographical blocs, with little regard for the merit of the songs. But are they? It is hard to see any patterns from looking at a table of voting results:

Eurovision 2008 voting

2008 results from, click to enlarge.

So I created a simple visualisation of the data[1], similar to one of the approaches I use in my table planner software, PerfectTablePlan. In this visualisation I draw a line from each country to the country that it gave the highest points to. The closer the country is geographically, the thicker and bluer the line.

Eurovision 2008 voting visualisation

Eurovision 2008 voting patterns. Click to enlarge.

Looking at the diagram, there does appear to be bloc voting going on in the Balkans, Scandinavia & the former Soviet Union. But what would the voting look like if there was no bloc voting? To find out I randomly swapped columns in the table. For example votes made by the UK I assigned to Belarus and votes made by San Marino[2] I assigned to the UK. So each finalist now has the same number of incoming votes, but from random countries. Assuming they are voting for the best (or least awful) song, not by geography, the results should look similar. The randomised version looks more, well, random.

randomised Eurovision 2008 voting patterns

Randomised Eurovision 2008 voting patterns. Click to enlarge.

These results are suggestive, but not conclusive. But If I put the last 3 year’s results together with their randomised versions, I think there is little doubt that geography is the key factor in determining Eurovision voting patterns. The actual voting patterns look remarkably similar year-on-year and the difference between the actual and randomised results are quite marked.

Eurovision voting patterns

Eurovision voting patterns, actual and randomised, for 2006, 2007 and 2008. Click to enlarge.

Maybe if the western European countries liked each other a bit more, the UK wouldn’t have come last this year? But I can’t really see Britain, Spain, France and Germany voting for each other any time soon. ;0)

Does it really matter whether Eurovision song contest voting is based on merit? It certainly won’t keep me awake at night. But I think it is a nice illustration of how you can use simple visualisation techniques (even something hacked together in a few hours) to turn raw data into usable information. The human brain has incredibly powerful visual processing hardware. Have you optimised your software to run on this platform?

[1] I wrote some throwaway code to generate these images in C++ and Qt over a few hours on a wet bank holiday Sunday. QA amounted to ‘that looks about right’.

[2] I’ve never heard of it either – but apparently it gets as many votes as the UK.

17 thoughts on “Is the Eurovision song contest rigged?

  1. Panda

    It is so much of a scam! Look at the maps it shows this situation getting worse and worse. As for Terry Wogan he says he’s not doing Eurovision for U.K anymore. Someone should sort this out!

  2. Rob

    Nice work, but this is a bit of a case of using the wrong tool for the job. The diagrams require a fair bit of subjective interpretation to come to a conclusion. However, we have statistical tools that could tell us definitively if there is correlation or not. The result (a single number) still requires some interpretation, but there’s a whole lot less leeway, and a single number can be communicated much more quickly and easily.

    I’m not trying to rain on your parade at all – this is nice work – just trying to make the point that the right tool for the job is not necessarily the one closest to hand.

  3. Vladimir Radmilovic

    Eurovision song voting system is not good, but it wasn’t good before 1990 either – there was always too much politics involved. Western countries were slightly more favored before, while eastern countries are definitely more favored now.

    There’s nothing unethical with this: ex-USSR and ex-YU people were in the same country for half of a century. There are language and cultural similarities, they are familiar with same artists and, what’s even more important, each country has significant number of minorities from neighbor countries. Oh, another thing: lot of people immigrated to the west (because of all of the troubles, not to mention them). They surely vote for they base countries.

    So, although it’s really hard for UK to win these years, just consider that Eurovision and sports are only things that can at least for a while light up this people, no matter how unimportant it is compared to the *real* problems they have.

    Quality doesn’t win on this contest. This is specially true considering that votes are cast by people without significant musical knowledge.

    I hope you feel at least little better now. :)

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  5. nollkoll

    any scandinavia country voting for or getting voted for by iceland should show in blue as they are scandi countries (although far apart in distance) .. or not ?

  6. Andy Brice Post author

    >any scandinavia country voting for or getting voted for by iceland should show in blue as they are scandi countries

    It is purely done on the pixel distance between the capitals in the map I used.

  7. D

    Whats interesting is foreign nationals voting.
    Ireland has hundreds of thousands of Polish and Latvians.
    Who did Ireland give their 10 and 12 points to? Poland and Latvia!

  8. George Sudarkoff

    Correlation and causality are two big differences (as we say in Russia). Just because it is generally cold when it snows doesn’t mean the snow causes low air temperatures. In this case, like Vladimir Radmilovic already noted, it probably just a cultural bias that causes the skew.

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  10. Andy Brice Post author

    I realise that cultural similarity is one possible interpretation of the results. But the trashy homogenised commercial pop of Eurovision sounds pretty devoid of local influences to my (untrained) ear.

  11. S. Tanna

    Rigging is not the only possible explanation for geographical corelations in voting.

    Maybe there’s an Scandinavian-style of Eurovision music, an ex-Soviet style, a Balkan style, etc.

    Countries in each region, might then tend to make songs of this type of their region’s style, and also tend to vote for songs of their region’s style.

    Likewise, you need to also take into account, the only people in Europe who speak Spanish to understand the Spanish entry, are Spain itself (which can’t vote for itself) and Andorra. Likewise Greeks and Cypriots can understand each other’s entries, assuming it’s in Greek, Nordic languages are somewhat mutually comprehensible, etc.

  12. rel

    people in the uk are only moaning cz we come last all or close to last all the time.
    maybe if they had a decent song with singers that perform well live, just maybe other countries would vote uk.

  13. Lee

    I do believe the voting is rigged based on a group committee who decide it. To be honest it makes the most sense. I am English and don’t want to UK to win, we can’t afford it! So that is not the reason I moan, 2010 we deserved to be near the bottom. But anyone who says that the voting system hasn’t anything wrong with it is deluded. The same countries vote for eachother all the time, but why? Do the Greeks sit there and say to themselves “we’re going to vote for Cyprus again this year because they’re our neighbours”? England has no fans around Europe but I don’t see why any country would vote for their neighbours just for the sake of it over voting for the best song, what have they to gain out of it exactly? The political voting theorists would have you believe that certain countries around Europe get on really well, always helping eachother out, popping over for tea all the time etc. This isn’t the case. There are a lot of foreign nationals, here especially who are going to vote for their own country which should be disallowed as it’s clearly not based on the talent of the singer or song. It makes more sense that certain countries like their own style of music, Greece and Cyprus for example but this isn’t always the case in the style of song as Eurovision has it’s own pop sound. I wouldn’t be even thinking that it’s already decided but it’s a bit odd how some of the worst songs can get so many points and some of the best ones can get so few. Malta never get anywhere and they are the most consistent country with their singers and songs being brilliant. They never win because they can’t afford it, it’s based on political and socialogical factors of who would be good at hosting it the next year. Why the UK still pays so much into it I don’t know, that one is beyond me, idiotic government again as usual I expect. One time the winner was such the wrong choice I asked around and kept asking in life and online in every country who would listen about who voted for him, I couldn’t find a single one. That doesn’t prove anything, but the whole voting thing has always been just a little bit off and it’s only got worse the past few years. I just wouldn’t believe everything they tell you….after all, there was clear ‘intelligence’ that Saddam Hussein had nukes. You think Eurovision is a big deal to rig? I enjoy it for the show and the music, I just don’t take the voting seriously because it’s clearly rigged despite what ‘experts’ findings say. Maybe before this gets sorted out, something more important needs to be done and questioned about why there are so many non-european countries in Eurovision! Just because you’ve joined the EU doesn’t make you European. There’s about 5-10 that shouldn’t even be in it. But then again they do that in England, extend boundaries to get more money, ie Essex is NOT east London, never has been. So all in all, fun show, just take it for what it is and try to ignore all the bullshit.

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