Top Tip Update: Will the Returning Countries Make A Difference?

Having argued that the public vote still matters more than the jury vote in my last Top Tip Update, I think it makes sense for punters to consider carefully how the composition of the contest could make a difference to the result in an open-looking year.

From year to year, some countries drop out of Eurovision and others join. Obviously, if Country X is usually awarded high points from Country Y, the loss of Country Y has a detrimental effect on the chances of Country X. And if Country Y later rejoins the contest, that’s good news for Country X.
This year we have four returning entrants: Hungary (absent since 2009), San Marino (absent since 2008), Austria (absent since 2007) and Italy (absent since 1997). No countries have withdrawn, but Andorra, the Czech Republic and Montenegro, who withdrew in 2010, have all stayed away. What are the likely effects of this?

Let’s begin with Austria, because their televote pattern is well established. In general, it’s very Balkan-friendly. In the 2007 final, their 12 went to Serbia, the 10 to Turkey, the 8 to Bosnia and 7 to Germany. In the semi-final, a middling level of points had also been given to eventual non-qualifiers Croatia and Macedonia.

Their previous appearance came in 2005 when the Balkan bias was even more pronounced. The final saw their top points go to, in descending order: Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and Turkey. We can say that Turkey and the Balkan countries, Serbia especially, benefit from the return of Austria.

Austria’s recent voting record is very similar to neighbouring Switzerland. Interestingly, in the last two years, the Swiss jury seems to have done its best to counteract the bias shown in its televote, favouring more traditional Eurovision nations such as Ireland and Sweden. It will be interesting to see if the Austrian jury do the same. As in 2007, I expect Germany to feature among their points allocated.

Austria’s return may partially compensate the Balkan countries for the continued absence of Montenegro, who withdrew last year. Only partially, however, as the Montenegrin jury would arguably be more likely to reinforce the cultural bias of its televoters than the Austrian one.

So taking a longer term view, we are left with Turkey, the country already most favoured by its diaspora around Europe, looking most likely to get the net plus from Austria’s return.

Moving on to Hungary, the nation most favoured is Azerbaijan – another, like Turkey, that already has plenty of friends in Eurovision voting terms.

Hungary awarded Azerbaijan its 12 in 2008 with 100% televoting. In 2009, the semi-final 12 went the same way, ahead of eventual winner Norway, whilst a technical problem counting its televotes in the final meant that a mixture of SMS and jury scores were used and those placings were reversed.  It seems safe to assume that Azerbaijan won that televote too, as in the semi-final.

Azerbaijan seems to do well out of central European countries, and lost out when the Czech Republic departed in 2010, having received 10 points from that country in both 2008 and 2009 (only Armenia was favoured more on both occasions).

As for the third returner, San Marino, with only one previous appearance in the contest it is hard to extrapolate anything. That year, Greece received its semi and final 12 points, but giving top points to an entry that came third doesn’t necessarily tell us anything.

The return of Italy to the competition, however, should see them getting high marks when the San Marinese points are announced. Not having been in the competition since 1997, an era before widespread predictable televoting took real hold, means that there is even more guesswork with how the Italy televote will pan out.

In terms of migrants within Italy, the nations who are most favoured are Romania and Albania. Both countries have a motivated diaspora in other parts of Europe (not all diaspora are equally motivated in Eurovision terms – the significant Polish community in the UK, for example, seems to show less interest in the contest than the Turkish and Greek communities).

Romania seems very likely to benefit, therefore, with Italy voting in their semi-final. Albania and San Marino – who are also likely to be favoured – will have to qualify from the other heat if they want points from Italy in the final.

So, summing up, we have a list of Turkey, Azerbaijan, the Balkan countries, Romania and Italy each looking likely to glean some benefit from the returning four. This is a spread of countries, but that spread is among countries – Italy apart – already favoured by friendly voting elsewhere.

This fits with the trend over recent years. Countries withdrawing have tended to be more neutral – Andorra (last seen at the contest in 2009) and Monaco (last seen at the contest in 2006) tended to spread their votes fairly widely, with the exception of Andorra’s friendly votes for Spain and Portugal.

Whereas countries that have joined or re-joined (with the exception of Slovakia, who seem similarly neutral so far) have tended to reinforce the bias towards friendly voting. 

And, of course, many countries who benefit from this have only started participating in the contest in recent years, such as Serbia & Montenegro (from 2004, later to take part as separate entities from 2007), Armenia (from 2006) and Azerbaijan (from 2008).

Of course, an attempt to dilute the importance of friendly voting is why the decision was made to change the system from 100% televoting to a 50/50 jury/public vote split from 2009. But the changing composition of the contest means this friendly voting is still a vital factor for punters considering where to put their money.

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