Eurovision 2014 voting: Why is it so political?

The Eurovision Song Contest final is near and eyes are on Russia and Ukraine

Jess Denham
Thursday 01 May 2014 15:01

As the Eurovision final draws closer, voters' minds are once again turning to the contest's politics with all eyes on Ukraine and Russia.

After being booed at the semi-final on Tuesday, Russia is widely expected to lose out in the voting as a result of both its strict anti-gay propaganda laws and the current crisis in Ukraine.

The cheesiest, campest and arguably most ridiculous of all music competitions has long been plagued with cries of "It's just political!" and, when it comes to these two countries, it might well be.

But is it really true that the outcome is always rigged by tactical, politically-motivated voting? Do neighbouring countries vote for each other? And can Britain's poor performance in 2003 be blamed solely on Blair's Iraq invasion?

Eurovision 2014: Meet the contestants

We take a look at whether Eurovision is as political as people claim...

1) Eastern Europeans just vote for their best mates

One of the main issues fans take with Eurovision seems to be over "bloc voting", where neighbouring countries award one another the top 12 points.

The chart below shows the number of times "buddy" nations have given full marks to the other since 2009, with Turkey and Azerbaijan the worst offenders.

Perhaps it's worth considering that viewers are more likely to vote for acts they have heard of.

Serbia's Zeljko Joksimovic won numerous votes from former Yugoslavian countries in 2012 because he is popular in the Balkans.

Neighbouring countries often share a similar language and musical tradition, meaning that a household name in one country will likely hold a similar status in the other.

2) Britain gets 'nul points' because Tony Blair invaded Iraq

Yes, the decision was an unpopular one, but this is Eurovision – feel-good songs, cheesy grins and outrageous outfits all round, right?

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Some critics believe the UK's chances plummeted because of the Iraq War in 2003 (see chart below showing points awarded to the UK from 2000 to 2009).

That same year Jemini suffered the "nil points" nightmare that had, until then, eluded the UK. The duo confessed to singing out of tune and the song was nothing short of terrible.

While it's always fun to blame Tony Blair, it probably wasn't his fault we did so badly...

As mentioned above, this year, Ukraine and Russia will engage in a music propaganda battle which many suspect will see the latter lose out on votes.

3) Expats are voting for their native entries

Eurovision rules state that countries are not allowed to vote for their own song (sorry, Molly). Cue uproar over people living abroad racking up votes for their homeland i.e Russians in Estonia and Cypriots with Greek heritage.

The jury's out on whether this has been skewing the voting enough to change the outcome.

4) Israel is not in Europe but still takes part. Urm...?

Israel has been allowed to participate in Eurovision since 1973 as it is within the European Broadcasting Area and a member of the European Broadcasting Union.

Each year, Eurovision invitations are sent out to all active members of the EBU. Some choose to take part while others do not. Israel's keen, simple as that.

Eurovision map showing active members of the EBU

Morocco has also entered Eurovision before but it has not returned since Samira Ben Said performed "Bitakat Hob (Love Message)" in 1980. As for Turkey, part of it is in Europe and the other in Asia, making it eligible for Eurovision.

5) Lifting the language rule has ruined the UK's chances

In 1999, Eurovision organisers abandoned a rule stating that songs must be performed in an official language of the participating country. This meant that other countries could perform in English.

The UK's success rate started to fall from then, with only two entrants finishing in the top ten. It does make the whole thing much more enjoyable for the English though, as we can hear those cheesy lyrics in all their glory.

So are Brits just more cynical about Eurovision than other countries?

In short, yes. A pan-European YouGov poll conducted on the eve of last year's Eurovision revealed that Brits are most likely to claim that political voting scuppers certain countries' chances of winning.

The Eurovision Song Contest was founded after World War II in the hope of uniting European countries through light-hearted, fun entertainment. Less than 15 per cent of Brits believe this aim has been achieved.

Perhaps it's time to lighten up, host a Eurovision bash and just enjoy the spectacle.

Start by watching the UK's entry Molly Smitten-Downes perform her song "Children of the Universe":

Read more: Everything you need to know about Eurovision 2014
Meet the Eurovision 2014 contestants
Ukraine and Russia in Eurovision propaganda battle

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