Sweden, the #Eurovision, and the Popular Vote

In 2015 Sweden earned their sixth Eurovision title, two years after winning their fifth. Around that time Christer Björkman having said tying Ireland’s seven victories was a goal, claiming that have the most recent victory would mean Sweden leads Ireland. Others have argued that since three of Sweden’s victories have come in the public vote era, which counts “more” than Ireland’s victories from the jury era.

Does it…does it, really?

We have thusly dusted off our abacus to look at these data—in particular the 1999, 2012 and 2015 Swedish Grand Final point accruals. In each of those years, somewhat different versions of the douze points voting system were used, but all included elements of jury and public votes.

Context, it turns out, is everything.

Jerusalem 1999

The public vote was a relatively recent innovation in 1999. 1997 had five televoting nations:  in 1998 most delegations used phone voting of some sort (Turkey, Romania and Hungary being the exceptions). But even in 1999 some countries still used juries: Lithuania, Turkey, Ireland (!) and Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Sweden’s Take Me To Your Heaven (Charlotte Nilsson) scored 163 points in total; runner up Iceland’s All Out of Luck (Selma) scored 146. Sweden’s was a comprehensive victory.

But did the jury votes skew in a way that would have changed the results, had it been public vote only?

JurySwedish pointsIceland points
Turkey1210
Lithuania38
Ireland54
Bosnia120
Total3222

Sweden earned 10 more jury votes that Iceland. If we subtract the jury points from these entry’s final scores we get Sweden 131, Iceland 124. A closer result, but no change in rankings.

Sweden’s first televote victory, in other words.

We were team Putnici (Source: YouTube/Dino Merlin)

Baku 2012

Loreen’s Euphoria scored one of the biggest victories in Eurovision history: her 372 points were well ahead of Buranovskiye Babushki’s 259 points for Party for Everybody (Russia). However, the 2012 voting system had both jury and public vote components, which were combined so each delegation awarded its 58 Points from one set of top 10 rankings.

The jury vote in Baku was massively skewed. Sweden’s 296 jury points were 123 points greater than runner-up Serbia. Russia only received 94 jury votes, putting them in  11th place.

The public vote was much closer, with Sweden (343 points) only 11 points ahead of Russia (332). There were 42 competing entries in Baku, so  that 11 points difference works out to an average of .27 points per delegation—almost zero. Both Russia and Sweden were awarded points to 40/41 delegations: Italy blanked Sweden and Switzerland blanked Russia.

In other words, Sweden achieved their second Grand Final televote victory in 2012. Just.  

10th? We can’t even (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)

Vienna 2015

Måns Zemerlow’s Heroes brought Sweden their most recent title. With 365 total points, Zemerlow comfortably defeated Russia’s Polina Gagarina’s 303 points. Italy’s Il Volo were third on 297 points.

As Loreen did, Måns’ overall score was skewed by a lot of jury love. Had the “jury and public votes both count” system introduced in 2016 been in place, Sweden (363) would have had a 114 point lead over Latvia (249), with Russia almost equal second (247) after the jury scores were reported.

However, unlike 2012, the public did not agree. Sweden’s 279 televote points ranked Heroes third, behind Italy (366) and Russia (286).

In other words it was juries that delivered Sweden their sixth title, rather than the public.

Had this been the version in Vienna…*sigh* (Source: YouTube/VALERVIN Brothers)

Jury as strategy

It is clear that SVT’s strategy has been to calibrate their entries to jurors for several years. Melodifestivalen has invested in international jury participation for many years. Melfest also stages nearly 30 entries every year. To win Melfest you need to provide something compelling, in terms of viewing experience.

As a result, the innovative staging, audio mixed for television rather than the arena, and the discipline required to succeed in a regional heat and a national final mean that Swedish entries arrive at the Eurovision having been quality controlled.

As well, targeting jurors is logical: it’s easier to target 200 people rather than several million—particularly when jurors are supposed to rank entries against specific criteria and jurors are supposed to have ties to cultural industries.

The public? We can give votes to entries for any reason—or no reason at all. We can’t argue that every entry that wins a Eurovision televote is “better” than the others against which it competes. It’s more popular.

In recent years—particularly as Björkman has stepped back from Melodifestivalen—the jury calibration seems to be waning. Tusse’s 2021 entry was the first Swedish entry since 2010 to be ranked outside the jury’s top 10. Sweden’s 2016 entry (If I Were Sorry) was the only one to be outside the jury’s top THREE between 2011 and 2019.

Victory is victory

When you have won isn’t consequential: each win counts equally: victory is victory, regardless of the year.  As well, parsing voting systems is very difficult, particularly prior to 1975 when the current framework was first used.

For example, one could further scrutinize ABBA’s victory in 1974. Waterloo scored 24 points from 11 (of 17) delegations, which is the widest distribution of points from the year (the Netherlands were next with 15 points from 10 delegations). Yet, 10 of ABBA’s points came from Finland and Switzerland, whom each awarded Sweden 5 points.

And there’s no way to convert the 1974 scores to the current douze points framework, since most delegations awarded points to fewer than seven entries. Belgium having awarded points to nine entries comes the closest, but effectively would have given Monaco 12 points (having received 2 points), leaving eight other entries “tied” for 10 points.

Similarly, Carola’s 1991 winning entry would have been second under the current rules. Rather than using the 10 points countback, France’s having received points from more delegations than Sweden would have given C’est le dernier qui a parlé qui a raison the title. But the 1991 rules obviously apply to the 1991 Contest.

Sweden’s three “televote era” victories include one where they did not win the televote. They are still victories.