Exploding the myth of the conservative “Eastern European” voter

(Photo credit: Albin Olsson, Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Western European Eurovision fans should think again about their preconceptions about “Eastern Europeans” as the data tells a different story.

In the traditional lull between national selection season and the first rehearsals for the Eurovision live shows, it’s a good time to take a step back and look at some of the wider issues and controversies surrounding the contest.

One of these is the perceived split between “Western” and “Eastern” Europe. The narrative goes something like this: Western Europe is liberal, tolerant, democratic, secular and modern enough to accept artists such as transsexual Dana International or a bearded singer in drag such as Conchita who of course won last year’s final for Austria.

“Eastern Europe”, on the other hand, is illiberal, intolerant, corrupt, religious, backward and homophobic, and therefore “is not ready” to vote for such acts.

Without wanting to get into the whole debate about why it’s meaningless to lump countries as disparate as the Czech Republic and Azerbaijan into a one-size-fits-all label, a cursory look at the voting stats from last year will tell you that the viewers of many of the countries seen as the very “worst” of the “Eastern Europeans” (Belarus, Azerbaijan, Russia, for example) voted for Conchita in their droves. This story seems to have been rather ignored – perhaps as it doesn’t fit our easy-to-understand worldview?

The EBU now publishes a full breakdown of the voting statistics for each country, so let’s take a look:

For almost all countries taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest, 50 percent of the votes are awarded by a jury made up of 6 people (generally music industry professionals – it’s left up to the participating country’s broadcaster to choose these and so they can be used as a way for the country to influence the result and “balance” any undesirable results of the televote). The other 50 percent of the votes are awarded by a televote, overseen by the EBU and much harder for an autocratic regime to manipulate.

Let’s now look at the results for some countries “about which we know little”, except that we tend to think of them as a bit backwards and probably not particularly gay friendly:

Armenia

In Armenia, the 6 members of the jury put Austria’s Conchita in 24th place but the viewers gave her the second highest mark of the night. On the basis of the viewers’ vote alone, Armenia would have given Conchita 10 points. Thanks to the jury, she got 0.

Azerbaijan

In Azerbaijan, the 6 members of the jury put Austria’s Conchita in 24th place but the viewers put her in third place. On the basis of the viewers’ vote alone, Azerbaijan would have given Conchita 8 points. Thanks to the jury, she got 0.

Belarus

In Belarus, the 6 members of the jury put Conchita in 23rd place but the viewers put her in 4th place. On the basis of the viewers’ vote alone, Belarus would have given Conchita 7 points. Thanks to the jury, she got 0.

Russia

In Russia, the 6 members of the jury put Conchita in 11th place but the viewers put her in 3rd place. On the basis of the viewers’ vote alone, Russia would have given Conchita 8 points. Thanks to the jury, she got 5 points.

Anyone notice a pattern? It’s difficult to know for sure why the juries in these countries gave Conchita such poor marks (although it’s tempting to speculate). What we do know is that despite the best efforts of the professional juries in these four countries, the viewers at home were just as eager to vote for a bearded drag act as your average “Western” European country.

Worth remembering when we’re next tempted to draw quick conclusions about the nature of the the audience in so-called “Eastern” Europe.

 

 

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My first Eurovision memory is watching the nervous Doireann Ní Bhriain present the 1981 contest from Dublin where of course Bucks Fizz won. So yes, I'm no spring chicken.

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