One of the most memorable moments of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 came when Poland’s Michal Szpak — who received just seven points from the juries — earned 222 points from the televote. That gap in rank ordinals — from 25th place to third — is the biggest ever seen at Eurovision, eclipsing Austria’s 19-place disparity from 2011. In his semi-final the public also saved Michal, ranking him fourth and helping to offset the jury’s ranking of 15th.
It was enough to make the British commentator Graham Norton comment during the BBC broadcast.
“Now this is extraordinary,” he said. “Poland just got seven from the jury vote and look at them now – they are going to get a massive percentage of the phone vote. Euro-nerds are going to have a field day analysing those votes.”
One could argue that the juries don’t reflect music trends or prevailing tastes, and that the public around Europe really wanted to discuss the colour of their life. Another take is that Michal benefitted from Poland’s vast diaspora.
When looking closely at the votes, there’s definitely evidence for the latter. As BBC Magazine points out, Poland’s top ten highest televoting scores came from the top ten countries with the largest number of Poles living there (Austria, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, France and Spain).
Poland is not the only country to demonstrate a significant boost from the televote, potentially because of diaspora voting. Lithuania and Serbia followed the pattern as well.
Lithuania received three sets of 12 points from the televote — from the UK, Ireland and Norway. These are all countries with a large Lithuanian minority to vote for Donny Montell. But the jury wasn’t feeling him. The British jury gave Donny four points, the Norwegian jury gave him two and the Irish jury blanked him completely.
In the grand final the jury placed Serbia’s Sanja 23rd, whereas televoters ranked her eleventh. The “Goodbye” singer earned 80 points, with six nations giving the Balkan country douze points. They were Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Switzerland.
All these countries have a notable Serb minority. Most of these countries (except Switzerland) also gave Serbia some jury points, but no more than the eight points Bosnia & Herzegovina awarded.
A natural response is that diaspora voting has always existed. This is true. However, under the 2016 voting system, there is greater balance between the televote and jury vote. From 2013 to 2015 the jury ranked all songs in the final, creating a “drag effect” whereby jurors could “punish” songs by ranking them lowly — say, 24th, 25th or 26th. This year they only awarded points to their top choices — they didn’t “negatively rank” their least favourite. In short, diaspora voting could make more of an impact in 2016 than in recent years.
Photo source: Thomas Hanses (EBU)