Brexit Stage Left: A Tale of Unrequited Eurovision Love

Eurovision voting data could hold the key to unlocking the roots of the United Kingdom’s suicidal notions of exiting the European Union.


A topic that has been consistently in the headlines in Europe over the past few months has been the UK’s imminent referendum on whether or not to abandon the European project that has dominated the politics of this continent for the past seven decades. On June 23, citizens of the UK will vote in a referendum on the topic, and the result of this referendum could have a major impact on both the UK and Europe for decades to come. While a vote to remain inside the European Union is expected, the polls show that the result could go either way. This is despite the fact that evidence exists that a “Brexit” from the EU could have serious adverse consequences for the general UK population. Indeed, the OECD estimate that Brexit would equate to a loss of one month’s income for the average UK citizen by the end of the decade. The UK Treasury’s estimate is even worse, equating Brexit as a tax of two month’s income for every inhabitant of the country. US President Barack Obama said in plain terms that a Brexited UK’s bargaining position with regards to major trade deals would be put back by a decade. David Cameron has intimated that Brexit would invariably lead to war and genocide on the continent, while scientific researchers have protested that leaving the EU would inhibit their efforts to stop cancer spreading throughout the United Kingdom. Brexit won’t cause cancer, but it certainly won’t help either.

Despite this, the threat of taxation, war, genocide and cancer does not seem to bother the significant number of UK voters who intend to vote ‘leave’ in the upcoming referendum. The sheer audacity of such reckless abandonment of personal and global safety begs the question of what exactly the European Union did to the UK to hurt it so much to make it feel this way. The standard explanation of UK/British exceptionalism within the EU is that Britain still thinks of itself as an empire, and that this idea can never be resolved within a power sharing multinational bloc such as the European Union. While this narrative does explain the arrogance, it doesn’t explain the hurt. It doesn’t explain the deep wounds that Europe inflicted on the UK to push it to the point where it was willing to risk world peace, and an end to cancer, just to break away.

A main facet of economic theory is that in order to reach as valid a conclusion as possible, we must search for revealed preferences, rather than stated preferences. What this means is that we do not ask people what they think (stated preferences), but we search for things that might show what they think (revealed preferences), or possibly how they feel. Asking a UK citizen why they are voting yes/no in the upcoming referendum might provide insight into the issue, but it doesn’t reveal what we want to show: the hurt.

The best resource to show UK attitudes to Europe, and vice versa, is probably the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC, or more commonly ‘the Eurovision). Every year the UK provides an entrant to the competition, and other European countries award points based on quality and other factors (such as borders). In turn, the UK gets to award points for it’s favourite songs from other European countries. While throughout most of its existence the Eurovision’s voting procedure involved a professional jury dictating the merits of each song and awarding points where warranted, a significant change occurred at the turn of the century as televoting has been introduced, and democracy with it. By law the Eurovision must release all its voting data to the public, and therefore a rich dataset exists that perhaps can give us some insight into the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe, and perhaps some revealed preferences.


The UK & The Eurovision

In the time period 2000-2015, 48 countries have participated in the ESC. Most of them are European, while also countries such as the Caucasus nations (Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan) and Israel have been granted access, as well as Australia in 2015. This means that the populations of 47 nations (the UK cannot vote for itself) have had the opportunity to award points to the United Kingdom over the past 16 Eurovision Song Contests. Over this period, the UK received 635 points from these nations, out of a possible total of 4224 (Caveat: I didn’t feel like calculating this, but the formula would be something like {16*(12*(nt-1))}, where nt is the number of participating countries in the Eurovision that year. The minimum number in the data set is 23, so I am using that minimum.). The percentage share of each participating country in this total of 635 points is detailed in the table below.


If you weren’t bothered reading all that, then the graph below should do the trick.

bar received

Ireland and Malta obviously stand out. These are two very small countries, yet combined they are responsible for almost 25% of the UK’s total points in this time period. To put this in starker terms, the below graph shows the average points each country awarded the UK between 2000 and 2015. The maximum number of points awardable is 12.

awarded uk bar

Ireland will give an average of 5.5 points to the UK in each Eurovision, while Malta will give 4.3 points. Then there is a sizable drop in the level, and the average of most countries points awarded to the UK is too small to appear on the graph.

Malta and Ireland are obviously different than the rest of Europe, and that difference is not that they are both islands, but that they are very recent colonies of the United Kingdom. There is an obvious cultural heritage in these countries that the rest of Europe does not share, as well as the presence of a multitude of UK expatriates who can contribute to the televoting figures from these countries. An argument may be that Ireland and Malta are the only two other English speaking countries in the Eurovision Song Contest, however anyone who has seen the Contest knows that most songs are in English these days anyway.

How does Europe react to Britain if we exclude Ireland and Malta? The chart below separates these two countries from the pack, and groups the remaining countries into EU and non-EU designation. EU expansions in 2004, 2007 and 2014 have all been accounted for.


The UK this century has received an equal share of points from the EU (excluding Ireland and Malta) and Non-EU countries. 38% of its points have come from European Union member states that were not formerly under the rule of the British Empire.

While Europe (both EU and non-EU) have a balanced opinion of the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, with each contributing 38% of its total points haul, it is worth looking at things from the the other side: how has the UK voted in this period? Cutting right to the chase, and using the same methodology as before (grouping EU, non-EU and Ireland/Malta as three distinct categories), the results are in the pie chart below.

awarded total piiiiiii

Things are different here. Ireland and Malta receive just 14% of the UK vote, while the EU is substantially preferred, beating non-EU countries by twenty percentage points. At this point, it must be said that not every country can be awarded points in a Eurovision final, but merely those countries that proceed to the main competition. On several occasions in the time period, Ireland, Malta or both were absent and therefore ineligible for points from the UK. The chart below accounts for this, using only data for when both countries were present.

votes awarded irma

This does little to account for the discrepancy between EU points awarded to the UK, and UK points awarded to fellow EU nations.


The analysis of Eurovision televoting data showed that if we exclude the former British colonies of Ireland and Malta, EU nations have contributed 38% of the United Kingdom’s points total. In contrast, the UK itself shows a marked preference for the European Union, with 53% of its points going to the bloc, again excluding Ireland and Malta. What this suggests is that there is something going on underneath the surface of the relationship between the EU and the UK, and it is something that only can be seen in this data.

Britain/The Uk/Whatever is a small country in the world. It was big and popular once, but now is quite unsure of itself. It acts like it has confidence, and can succeed independently, but is really quite dependent on its smaller friends to provide an ego boost. The UK has sent gushing approval to the EU and Brussels over the past 16 years, and it has not received the same signals back. The UK clearly favours the EU, as is apparent from its voting patterns in the Eurovision data, yet the EU’s acceptance of the UK is far less clear. Perhaps Brexit is not about fantasies of lost empire at all. Perhaps it is but a tale of unrequited love, a call for attention from a secret admirer who only wants some tender loving care, but is far too proud to show it. Brexit is the political manifestation of a population that is accustomed to listening to Adele albums on repeat: they are ready to risk genocide, war and cancer just to seem relevant and loved. Maybe in this year’s Eurovision, we should requite some love: vote for the UK on Saturday. Before they set fire to the rain.


Everybody Needs Good Neighbours: What Eurovision Televoting Can Tell Us About European Relations

Whatever your opinion of the Eurovision Song Contest, there is absolutely no doubt that it is a truly unique event in the European calendar, and like it or not, it is unfortunately a fundamental part of the shared European culture. It is a stupid, silly, old-fashioned contest that has little to do with music, but does offer a bizarre introduction to hidden parts of Europe that we never knew existed. Who knew Azerbaijan is in Europe, for example, or that Israel belongs with the European elite, fighting for her chance of Eurovision glory? The flamboyant, over the top musical acts are one point that make it unique, but another aspect of the contest that makes it truly unique is the manner of how a winner is chosen. For 50 years, the winning entry of the Eurovision Song Contest has been chosen through a round-robin system of voting, where each individual country assigns points to other entrants (it is not possible to vote for your own country), and the entry with the highest points tally at the end of this process wins the contest. Before 1998, these points were awarded through specialist judge panels in each country, lending a degree of legitimacy and arguably musical relevance to the proceedings. However, since 1998, the point allocations have been aggregated through phone-in ballot in each country. This process is what makes the Eurovision so unique, as it is one of the only events in the world where the population of a country ranks other countries in the region, and can award or punish based on preferences of music (or other intangible aspects). What makes this fact extremely interesting from a data analysis point of view is that all point allocations are declared publically, and this means that the Eurovision voting process since 1998 gives us a rich, detailed, 16 year database of a single European country’s preferences for another European country.

One of the big criticisms of this voting process over the past 20 years is that the new post-Iron Curtain Republics who joined the Eurovision in the mid 1990’s simply disregard any aspect of music and just vote for their former Soviet friends. This was popularised in the UK as a way to explain their own country’s persistent failure to win the event. The theory sounds extremely ignorant, as anyone with even a casual history of Central and Eastern Europe would probably imagine that their shared history of constant warfare and mutual atrocities against each other over the past few centuries wouldn’t translate well into publically liking each other’s horrible songs just because they can. However, since there does seem to be something going on in Eurovision voting that has little to do with musical integrity, and the fact that we have the data to investigate it, we really can get some decent answers about what is more important in Eurovision voting: the quality of the music, or the nationality of the singers?

I have seen a few studies on this topic, such as the prominent one on the voting blocs of Eastern Europe, yet I am approaching this from a different viewpoint, based on my years of research in the field of discrimination. I offer a simple hypothesis, coupled with early high school levels of analysis: you don’t need to know anything about statistics to follow this. My hypothesis, simply stated, is that all other things being equal, over time, average points awarded to border countries of any individual country should be less than the average votes awarded to the final top 10 ranked countries at the end of the voting process each year. I chose this metric as the first group (bordering countries) is static, and has not changed much in the time period of reference (1998-2014). Montenegro is the only nation to be added to the Eurovision Song Contest in this period, meaning that for all other countries apart from Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania, borders have remained intact. So votes for this first group are weighed against votes awarded to what have emerged to have been the best 10 songs in each individual Eurovision Song Contest. If music was indeed more important than giving votes to neighbours, the latter group would emerge victorious over time. If not, we can probably make a case that the Eurovision is a big love-in for our neighbours.

Before getting into it, I need to explain how a country awards points in the Eurovision Song Contest. In the time period under analysis (1998-2014), an average of 25 countries competed in the Eurovision final. After each song has been performed, the voting process begins, and residents of each nation phone a specific number to cast their vote. These votes are aggregated, and the top 10 countries voted for by a country are awarded points. Each country awards the following points, in ascending order of vote rank: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12. Therefore the 10th ranked entry for each country is awarded 1 point, while the poll winner in each country is awarded 12 points. We assume that the best song will emerge from the tally of every countries points allocation.

 To The Data

I ran an analysis based on my hypothesis on a selection of European countries, and the Chart below reports the results.


From a first reaction, probably the most relevant observation from these results is the disparity of neighbourly love in all these European countries. While each country gives 6.1-6.9 points to the eventual top 10 in each Eurovision, some countries like their neighbours more than others. Germany and Russia have the most borders in Europe, but the two appreciate their neighbours very differently. Germany will give a bordering country an average of 4.7 points per Eurovision, while Russia will grant a generous 6.8. Austria will award 5, while Switzerland, which borders both Germany and Austria will grant a dataset high of 7.2. I can tell you right now that they rarely vote for France at all, meaning there is a great disparity in neighbourly relations amongst the German speaking nations. Another interesting takeaway are the results for Ireland and the UK, who each have only one border: each other. More light is shed on this relationship in the chart below, which also gives the likelihood of each country voting for a neighbour in any given Eurovision. The likelihood of voting is calculated by averaging the amount of bordering countries present at any Eurovision, and the average number of these bordering countries that are awarded points in that Contest.


So, Ireland is 81% likely to give the UK 6.5 points, while the UK is 90% on to give Ireland 6.7 points. Non-island nations rarely do so well, as they have many border countries to choose from. The least likely country to vote for a neighbour is Germany, whose bordering countries can only expect some points 42% of the time. Russia spreads around its love a lot more than others, which is impressive given that it can count on 7 of its neighbours being present in any given Eurovision.

From the first chart above, I feel my original hypothesis is supported: most countries do allocate more votes to the objectively ‘good’ songs in each Eurovision, however the difference between countries and the love for their neighbours is interesting, and worthy of further investigation. It begs the question, are all borders equal? The chart below investigates this for Germany. The likelihood metric is calculated by averaging the amount of times each country is present at a Eurovision in the time period and the allocation of points by Germany.


No, all borders are not equal. France is not favoured at all by the German public, and can only expect one point from their Eastern neighbours for every four appearances at the Eurovision. Poland on the other hand, can generally count on at least five points from their former invaders. Denmark also scores high, yet the allocation is far from certain. At least Austria can expect a meagre points allocation to a reasonable degree. Before you start counting, the Czech Republic have never appeared in the Eurovision Finals. Now let’s compare this with the identical information for Russia.


There is a lot of love for Azerbaijan in Russia, that’s for sure, and the same can be said for Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. While low points awarded to Finland are not surprising, Latvia does emerge as Russia’s least favourite Baltic country. Spare a thought for Poland however, who have never received a single point from Russia. Perhaps the size of the border, in the tiny isolate enclave of Kaliningrad is somewhat to blame, however when we compare this for the love show to Poland by Germany in their voting history, all things are arguably in balance.

 What Now?

This is all interesting, but I have realised that I have gone off topic since I confirmed my border theory was relevant, yet not water tight. Borders are obviously important, since average votes to border countries in most of the nations analysed were quite close to the objective quality of the final top 10, yet perhaps regional clusters are important too. The next chart compares selected former Yugoslav republics votes to each other and the objective top 10.


FYR countries: B-H, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia.

I will say right now that the average of five data points will most likely be higher than the average of 10, yet the results above are still impressive. I didn’t put the likelihoods in, but the lowest one (Serbia) was 87%. Interesting also are the low average scores for the songs that eventually ended up as the 10 highest ranked in each competition. For balance, here is the same chart for the Scandinavian countries


Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Sweden Norway, Iceland, Finland (I’m sorry, but you guys just are)

They all favour their own cluster of course, yet there is more of a sense that the Scandinavians (and Finland) are more in line with the European mainstream than the FYR countries, as the average votes to the eventual top 10 are somewhat higher. If you are interested in who are the most in line with the Eurovision, it’s Germany.


On average, Germany will allocate almost 80% of its 58 available points on the countries that will eventually rank in the top 10. So in any Eurovision voting process, pay very close attention to what the Germans have to say.

But What Now For Europe?

There’s a lot of interesting things that came out in from the Eurovision dataset, yet does it really mean anything? We discovered that everyone hates France, yet we knew this already. The fact that the UK are slightly more favourable to Ireland than vice-versa is no shock to me as an Irishman, nor would be Russia’s favouritism for its former Soviet satellites of Azerbaijan, Belarus and Ukraine. Russia’s distaste for Latvia I did find surprising, as well as Switzerland’s status as the most generous German speaking country. I am not going to try and explain why some countries vote for certain countries over others: many of you reading have already concluded that it is due to immigration and cultural ties or people from one country simply running across the border and voting for themselves, and they are all valid points. The question remains whether we can say anything about the general state of neighbourly relations in Europe from the results gleaned from analysis of voting in the Eurovision. I’m going to put myself out there and say yes, as at the moment this database is the best resource in the world in informing us on intra-Europe attitudes to each European country, even if it does make us choose between voting for our dear neighbours or for our favourite ultra-camp, terribly performed song that if you heard on the radio you would switch channels immediately. Maybe, just maybe, we use the Eurovision as a way to show our neighbours how we really feel about them, and it just so happens that these feelings are not always positive. In any case, for the performances and the voting process, it really is quite a show.

For What Price A Beer on the Ring?

Austria is a beer-drinking country, but is also a country that has few open supermarkets during the main drinking hours. During the winter, Austrians crowd into warm bars to meet their drinking needs, but what about the warm, humid summers, where a cold beer outside is necessary? What fills the gap in demand during the main drinking hours of the day are a group of tiny stands known collectively as ‘Würstelstands’ (From hence I shall forego the umlaut!). These stands sell a variety of fast food (Wurstelstand means ‘sausage stand’, but the type of food sold at a stand can vary), as well as cold beer throughout the evening, night and early morn. They are particularly plentiful here in Vienna, where demand is highest. One thing that has always puzzled me about these Wurstelstands is the distribution of prices: at one stand a can will cost €2.50, while at another it will cost just €2.10. I have even seen some go as high as €2.80, or as low as €1.80. This is quite a high distribution in pricing for a product that is basically homogeneous: a 0.5 liter can of Austrian beer.

Click image for source (Photo by Gerald Reyes)

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How Close Can Vienna Get To Brazil?

Even though Brazil is everywhere right now, with promotions running in every conceivable ad space to remind us that the FIFA World Cup is both imminent and important, here in Vienna it really is a long way to Rio. While the Coke ads show emotion, partying, and every now and again some football, the reality of a World Cup is actually quite different in a country that has not qualified for the tournament. What happens is you get all of this buildup, and then…. some football, and more promotions telling us how we are supposed to be feeling. Here in Vienna, there is genuinely a lot of interest in the World Cup, hence all the promotions and new TV’s in bars, and why we will find it difficult to find a bar stool on many match days, but the truth is that not many actually care about what happens at the World Cup. Austria is not in the competition, and Ireland isn’t either. I am very interested in the World Cup, yet I do not really care who wins, it is just for entertainment. You know, like a US election. Now, this is not another rant complaining about Vienna, for in this case, it is not her fault. It is because there is a disjoint between how we are sold the buildup (based on emotion), and what actually occurs (drinking and watching ads on TV). All the promotions are by multinational corporations who do one ad for the whole world, and don’t care who they hurt. Their biggest markets (US, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Australia etc.) have all qualified for the World Cup, so everyone else can just shut up and buy a Big Mac as if they too were at the same party as the big boys. So, the question arises: is it possible to get an actual World Cup experience here in Vienna, just like in the Coke ads, with people feeling things and everything? Continue reading

What Country Is Best At Boozing?

A few weeks ago I read a popular article online in the Washington Post about the international ranking of alcohol consumption habits. Every Irish person is instantly interested in this subject, as although we in Ireland are not impressed by the stereotype of ourselves as drunken messes, we as a small country are proud of any opportunity to be the best at something, regardless of what that something is. A few years ago, it was revealed that the Irish drank more cups of tea per person per day than any other nationality, and this was reported as the leading story on the national evening news that day. Similarly, in my current home of Austria, the Austrians are very proud of topping the international beer drinking charts a few years ago. Sadly, both Austria and Ireland have been overtaken, and indeed put to shame, by the Czech Republic over the past decade, and I wasn’t surprised to see the Czechs top the rankings the Washington Post’s study from last month. Figure 1 below reports the top 30 country rankings I pulled from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (GISAH), which is the source of the Washington Posts data. The graph reports average ml of alcohol consumed per person per year.

graph 1

Of course as a major sufferer of small-country-syndrome (which is exacerbated by also being an ex-pat), I was irrationally annoyed at Ireland only coming in third place, outdone by two countries that didn’t even exist when I was growing up. So naturally, as a social scientist, I started thinking of ways to analyse the data better (in a way that would hopefully further Irelands position in the ranking). After thinking about it for a while, I settled on creating an index of Functional Boozing. For while Estonia and the Czech Republic do engage in a lot of drinking, they pay for it dearly, as both countries are not really up to much in the world economy, or anything else. Ireland, meanwhile had an economic boom, lots of jobs and plenty of tourism and international prestige. This didn’t end well, but at least it was something. During the boom period of the Celtic Tiger in Ireland, we were consistently ranked in the top 5 beer drinking nations in the world, which is something not many countries can lay claim to. I therefore settled on the idea that it was not just about how much a country drinks; it is about the productivity, quality, and indeed happiness of the country itself that should also be a factor in this ranking. Continue reading