Sofabet commenter Chatterbox5200 emails: “The live shows have a rather ‘South-centric’ feel to them this year… I wonder which act(s) this is likely to assist. Who will those north of London vote for?”
Chatterbox points out that there are no acts from Wales or Ireland. Among the English acts, if you don’t count Manchester-based Rielle from Miss Dynamix, only Guisborough’s Abi Alton is from further north of Sam Bailey’s home in Leicesterhire.
Analysing the stats on regional origins of acts from previous years, Chatterbox makes the case that this could play to the advantage of the lone Scot in the field, Nicholas McDonald:
Looking back over the previous nine series, it makes interesting reading to see the relationship between the origin of the winning act, and the number of non-Southern contestants (see attached spreadsheet for full details):
2004 – 2 out of 9 Contestants from the North (+ 2 from Ireland)
2005 – 3 out of 12 Contestants from the North (+2 from Ireland and 1 from Wales)
2006 – 2 out of 12 Contestants from the North (+3 from Scotland)
2007 – 0 out of 12 Contestants from the North (+2 from Wales and 1 from Scotland)
2008 – 4 out of 12 Contestants from the North (+1 from Ireland)
2009 – 1 out of 12 Contestants from the North (+2 from Wales, 1 from Scotland and 1 from Ireland)
2010 – 3 out of 16 Contestants from the North (+1 from Scotland and 1 from Ireland)
2011 – 7 out of 16 Contestants & 1/2 of Little Mix from the North (+1 from Ireland)
2012 – 5 out of 13 Contestants from the North
In 2007 when there were 0 Northern acts represented, the winner was Leon Jackson, from Scotland.
In 2009 when there was only 1 Northern act, namely Joe McElderry, he went on to win the show. (The Scottish act was Rikki Loney – who finished 11th out of 12 ahead of only Kandy Rain!)
With Abi appearing to have only a niche appeal, and seemingly not even being the preferred act in the girl’s category, I wonder if this is all indicating support in the direction of Nicholas McDonald?
It’s an interesting question. If there’s something in it – and we obviously have to tread with caution given there are only two data points of series with fewer than two northern acts – presumably the mechanism we have to postulate is that some people from the north define their identity, to some extent, as “not from the south”, making northern support at least somewhat transferable.
In turn this opens up debate about the extent to which regional support extends. Abi Alton, for instance, is from Guisborough (population 18,000). That’s not quite Middlesbrough (population 376,000) – but it does have the same local newspaper, the Evening Gazette, which duly has plenty of Abi coverage. It seems fair to assume that Abi will be getting some Middlesbrough votes just because she’s a local lass. But how far afield does that hold? To what extent would residents of, say, Hartlepool feel like Abi is one of their own? By the time we get as far as, say, Sunderland and Newcastle – let alone Leeds or Manchester or Liverpool – it stretches credulity to imagine there are many voters picking up the phone out of a conscious sense of local loyalty.
But we don’t need that to happen for Chatterbox’s theory to hold true. All we need to postulate is that, on some unconscious level, Liverpudlians and Mancunians and Glaswegians and Geordies feel more instinctive connection with each other than any of them do with Londoners. That doesn’t feel so far-fetched. And given how big “the north” is, even if this is only a weak effect felt by a minority, it might conceivably still have a discernable impact. It’s a theory worth considering, at least.
While we’re considering regional votes, we thought it might be interesting to sort Chatterbox’s data by region – here’s that pdf – and average out some regional finishing positions. It’s an extremely imprecise science because some of the groups are harder to categorise regionally than others, and because the data sets are often small. That said, and just for fun, here’s what we find.
The region with most consistency is Liverpool – six acts, four podium finishes, and the lowest position being Craig Colton’s 6th. Their average finishing position is 3.33. (I excluded James Michael from these calculations, along with other 2011 twist victims and acts who dropped out in ways other than the public vote).
Craig Colton, of course, provides us with amusing evidence that producers are keenly aware of the power of the Liverpool vote. Infamously, when he was in favour at the start of the series, he got a VT studded with Mersey landmarks; when they wanted him out, his VT showed a map of the UK with his hometown identified as Kirkby.
The next best average, from Chatterbox’s lists, is The North, with an average finishing position of 5.17 if you include Liverpool and 5.82 if you exclude it.
Despite the doubts expressed above about the transferability of Tyneside/Teesside support, the four acts from the north-east – Joe McElderry from Tyneside, and Teesside’s James Arthur, Journey South and Amelia Lily – boast two wins and two thirds between them. That seems too small a sample size from which to draw conclusions, though, given the unusual circumstances of Amelia’s reintroduction and the level of producer support for James. Poor Abi seems set to bring the average down.
The eight acts from the island of Ireland – three from Ulster, five from the Republic – boast an average finishing position of 5.87, which remains practically unchanged if we split it into the two subsamples.
Acts from The South, not including London, weigh in at 6.28. We’re not suggesting there’s a meaningful “the south” vote, but some of the acts in that list – Essex, Devon, Luton, Swindon – should have benefited somewhat from a sense of local regional identity.
If we exclude Storm Lee, whose claim to the Scottish vote seemed somewhat optimistic, Scotland comes in at an average of 6.4. That seems surprisingly low, given the ones we all remember punching above their weight – The MacDonald Brothers and Leon Jackson, not to mention BGT’s Jai McDowell. It’s dragged down by Nikitta Angus, Kerry MacGregor and Nikki Loney.
Six acts from Wales have averaged 6.67. For benchmarking, the average of all finishing positions across the series so far is 6.74.
Underperforming the average are acts from London, with a combined average of 8.34, and The Midlands, with 8.38. With only eight acts from the Midlands – the fourth places of Cher Lloyd and Niki Evans being their best performers – that perhaps reflects only that they’ve so far been as unfortunate as the north-east has been fortunate in who they’ve had to cheer for.
But with nearly 30 London acts, it becomes harder to argue the case for bad luck. Is there less of a sense of regional identity in London? Perhaps the reason is simply that there’s a disproportionate number of London-based acts – about a quarter of the total, whereas London accounts for only about 13.5% of the UK population.
Two of this year’s London acts – Lorna from Streatham, and Kingsland Road from, er, Kingsland Road – have already been in trouble. Coincidentally, the other two London acts, Hannah and Rough Copy, are both from Croydon. It was Rough Copy who got the Croydon shoutout last week, although it’s perhaps arguable whether that’s a good or bad thing for Hannah.
Indeed, the whole question of the utility of regional shoutouts has been occasionally called into question in the Sofabet comments, notably when producers went to such lengths to tie Misha B to Manchester: some in the comments felt this could have been offputting to non-Mancunians. Our assumption is that producers must have access to some form of regional vote breakdown, and should be able to tell if the time-honoured formula of “I want everyone in X to pick up the phone” generates more votes from X than it loses in areas other than X.
It can be made to play both ways, though, depending on how it’s phrased. In the week they finally got Janet Devlin, we thought it was significant that Louis remarked “everyone in Ireland is picking up the phone”, the implications being that nobody outside of Ireland needed to bother and that she’d got this far on regional support not on merit.
Your views on whether Southern-centricity might play into Nick’s hands this year, and more generally on the role and significance of the regional vote? Do share your thoughts below.