Adrian Kavanagh, 6th May 2016
Each year, usually after an Irish act fails to do as well as expected at a Eurovision Song Contest, we hear the usual rants about “political voting” or “Eastern European countries only voting for other Eastern European countries”. Most of these urban legends are, quite simply, ráiméis – they do match up with the actual facts, or the trends that can be observed from a study of recent Eurovision voting trends. “Give me facts” said that legend of English literature, Mr. Gradgrind, and that is what this website always sets out to do!
So what are the facts as regards the countries that Ireland is most likely, or least likely, to win points from at the Eurovision Song Contest? The trends that emerge show that some of Ireland’s very best “supporters” at the Eurovision Song Contest (since the introduction of televoting in 1998) do, admittedly, include a number of “Western” states – including Denmark, Malta, San Marino, Finland and Sweden, but particularly the United Kingdom – but Irish acts have also won higher levels of support from the Baltic States – particularly Latvia – and Hungary than they have won from the rest of the “Western” countries. Indeed, some of Ireland’s lowest scores during the period since televoting was introduced in 1998 have come from “Western” countries, such as Italy and France.
The map above (Figure 1) shows that there is a pretty defined geography in terms of where Ireland has won the most Eurovision points across most of the past two decades, but what seems to be most important here is probably “cultural proximity” rather than “geographical proximity”. While Ireland’s strongest supporters at Eurovision across the 1998-2015 period has been their nearest neighbours, the United Kingdom, the country that ranks next in terms of geographical proximity to Ireland – France – has offered little in the way of Eurovision points across the past decade. Ireland’s strongest support base, instead, seems to be determined by the countries that Ireland is culturally closest to – namely the Viking Bloc countries, including the Scandinavian countries and the Baltic States. Overall, the countries offering the stronger support levels to Irish entries tend to be located in the northern and north-western parts of Europe. Outside of the Viking Bloc, Ireland’s most reliable sources of Eurovision support since 1998 have come from some of the smaller states in Western Europe (San Marino and Monaco, as well as Malta), as well as Belgium, Switzerland and Hungary.
There is not as coherent a geography in terms of the Eurovision countries that have offered Ireland the least amount of points at the Eurovision Song Contest, since the introduction of full-blown televoting in 1998, but there is a stronger likelihood of encountering lower support levels for Irish acts the further south one goes. In the west of Europe, Ireland has struggled to win points from countries such as Spain, Andorra and France. Since their return to the contest in 2011, Italy has yet to award even one point to an Irish act at a Eurovision semi-final or final. This trend is perhaps even more striking given that Italy tends to be the “Big 5/Hosts” country that gets drawn to vote in Ireland’s Eurovision semi-finals on the most consistent basis! Indeed, Italy has voted on Ireland’s semi final at each Eurovision contest between 2011 and 2015 and will again be voting on Ireland’s semi-final in this year’s contest. When Ireland’s Final appearances in 2011, 2012 and 2013 are factored in, this means that Italy has had 8 opportunities to award points to Irish acts (or 9 occasions, if the 2015 Junior Eurovision Song Contest is also included) and has awarded no points to Ireland on any of these occasions. In the eastern parts of Europe, Ireland fares poorly in terms of winning Eurovision points as regards some of the Balkan states (Serbia, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro) and some of the Former Soviet states (Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and Armenia). In addition to Italy, Georgia and the Czech Republic both have yet to award any points to Irish acts since both these countries made their contest debuts in Helsinki in 2007. However, the Czechs – given that they were absent from the contest between 2010-14 and given that they often end up in a different semi-final to Ireland (as will also be the case in 2016) – have had relatively few opportunities to vote for an Irish act at Eurovision. Georgia have, at least, awarded points to Ireland at the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. The only other country that has yet to award points to Ireland at Eurovision (although – like Georgia – they did give points to Aimee Banks at the 2015 Junior Eurovision Song Contest) is Australia, which may appear somewhat surprising. However, it is worth noting that Australia has – to date – had only one opportunity to vote for an Irish act at Eurovision, namely the second semi-final at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest.
In terms of the countries that will be voting on Ireland’s semi-final (Semi Final 2) this year – namely the other semi-finalists and the three “Big 5/Host” countries drawn to vote in this semi-final (Italy, United Kingdom and Germany) – Ireland will entertain the greatest hopes of winning points off countries such as the United Kingdom, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Belgium and Switzerland. By contrast – based on past voting histories – Ireland will be decidedly less likely to win Eurovision points in that semi-final from the following group of countries – Italy, Georgia, Belarus, Serbia, Ukraine, Slovenia and Spain.