Did Stalin Win The Eurovision Song Contest For Ukraine?Written by John Egan on May 31, 2016 | 3 Comments

Did Ukraine’s victory at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest come down to gathering the strongest ‘Anti-Stalin’ vote in the famously ‘non-political’ Contest? That was John Egan’s theory during the final rehearsals. Now we have the voting data, he puts that theory to the test.

The day Jamala performed ‘1944′ in the second semi-final I published an article on ESC Insight considering whether the core narrative of this year’s Ukrainian entry— the intergenerational suffering caused by the mass deportations in the 1940s ordered by Joseph Stalin —would resonate across Europe. Having won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest via second place in both the Saturday night televote and Friday night jury score, the answer is apparently a resounding yes. But to what extent might we attribute, even partially, Jamala’s victory to the potentially massive stakeholder group of the progeny of Stalin’s victims?

Time to put on our thinking caps—and fire up our calculators Excel.

Jamala - 1944 | Eurovision 2016 Ukraine

Jamala’s emotionally intense ‘1944’ (Photo: Eurovision.tv)

The Semi Final

Though not quite as much as in the Grand Final (see below), ‘1944′ clearly resonated with the second Semi Final jurors and public. In Semi Final two Jamala was second overall, though well (almost 50 points) behind winner Australia’s Dami Im. However, Jamala was first with Semi Final Two’s televoters. Interestingly, Ukraine was third in the second semi-final’s jury vote—a distant third, in fact. Here’s an summary of the top three from semi-final two:

  Overall score Televote score Jury score
Australia 330 (1) 142 (2) 188 (1)
Ukraine 287 (2) 152 (1) 135 (3)
Belgium 274 (3) 135 (3) 139 (2)

As she did in the Grand Final (see below), Australia put up a rather massive jury score—almost fifty points higher than second placed Belgium, with Jamala a smidge farther back. With Jamala’s lead in the televote much less empathic (10 points versus 50), under the new aggregate system Ukraine finished 43 points behind Australia—and only 14 points ahead of Belgium.

But let’s take a look at our previous mapping of our (for lack of a better term) Stalin deportee diaspora. This table excludes countries not voting in Jamala’s Semi Final:

  Televote to Ukraine Jury vote to Ukraine
Latvia 12 10
Lithuania 10 8
Poland 12 12
Germany 8 6
Georgia 12 12
(Lithuanian, Latvian, & Polish diasporas)
4 0
(Moldovan diaspora)
12 10
Bulgaria 12 4
Belarus 12 7
Totals 94 69
Ukraine’s scores 152 135

With 94 out of 152 televotes from these countries, 62 per cent of ‘1944’s’ televote total came from countries where Jamala’s family story might well be particularly resonant. As well, 69 out 135 total jury points, representing 51 per cent of Ukraine’s jury score, came from here too. These 9 countries represent just under half the 21 countries voting in the second semi-final. We cannot directly attribute these points to any “my family was impacted by Stalin so I will vote for Jamala” sentiment. But it might account for why in some of these countries—more particularly, in specific voting constituencies in these countries—Jamala’s entry might have resonated. Interestingly, only Ireland (with its competing diasporas) had Jamala outside the top three in the televotes. The Irish jury had ‘1944′ 15th overall, based on juror rankings of 17th, 17th, 9th, 13th, and 7th,

That’s the Semi Final scoreboard out of the way. What about on Saturday night? Hold that thought…

Thursday is not Saturday

Before going on, let’s go over one thing. There is quite a difference between how the results are determined in a Semi Final vote versus a Grand Final. No, not in terms of the scoring systems: in terms of viewers, the importance of first impressions, and relative competitiveness. Whilst the jurors for the Semi Final also serve for the Grand Final (naughty jurors excepted), they constitute only half the jury vote for Saturday night. As well, individual jurors do not give scores for entries: jurors give rankings from first to least favourite.

After the Semi Finals we are left with relatively few weak entries in a Grand Final: instead, twenty entries, each with some currency among jurors, the public or both, are added in with the six pre-qualified entries. It is inevitable that some semi-final qualifiers will see their scores drop in favour of some of the additional 16 entries (10 from the other semi-final; 6 from the pre-qualified entries) from which to choose come Saturday night.

In particular, the televoting public for a Semi-Final is a sub-sample of a sub-sample. First, we have exactly half the number of countries participating in a semi-final televote: the participating countries plus three of the six pre-qualified entries. Bear in mind that the actual viewing numbers for either Semi Final are routinely much smaller than a Grand Final: for every Sweden or Iceland, where the viewing figures for both shows are routinely high, there are as many Switzerland or Belgium, where the Grand Final viewing figures are 50% higher or more.

And there’s one other significant difference between competing in a Semi Final followed by an appearance in the Grand Final. If an entry seems “good” after seeing it once, but gets better with each subsequent viewing—if it’s a grower, in other words—an entry can build momentum from its Semi Final jury rehearsal through to Saturday night’s live Grand Final. Conversely, if an entry is more instant, it might lose a wee bit of sparkle the more often it is viewed.

The Grand Final

In the face of much more stringent competition, Jamala managed to maintain her televote support. Granted, ‘1944‘ was second in the televote behind ‘You Are the Only One,’ but both entries had massive scores: 361 and 323 points, respectively. Poland’s 222 points for third in the televote was over 100 points behind Ukraine, with Australia a further 31 points back. Those 130 or os points proved to be an important buffer.

Here’s how the overall top three entries’ scores break down:

Overall score Televote score Jury score
Ukraine 534 (1) 323 (2) 211 (2)
Australia 511 (2) 191 (4) 320 (1)
Russia 491 (3) 361 (1) 130 (5)

In terms of jury support, Ukraine improved from third to second. Australia had almost a 110-point lead after the jury points were announced, with third place France over 60 points behind Ukraine.  See last week’s article for a more detailed analysis of our 2016 laureate entries’ Grand Final performances.

Now let’s take a look again at our previous mapping of any Stalin deportee diaspora. Except in the Grand Final all 42 participating countries are voting, some for the second time:

Televote to Ukraine Jury vote to Ukraine
Armenia 10 0
Azerbaijan 10 10
Belarus 10 7
Bulgaria 10 0
Estonia 8 7
Finland 12 0
(Armenian &  Polish diasporas)
10 0
Georgia 10 12
Germany 6 7
(Georgian diaspora)
6 2
Israel 8 12
(Lithuanian, Latvian & Polish diaspora)
4 0
(Moldovan diaspora)
12 10
Latvia 10 12
Lithuania 10 8
Moldova 10 12
Poland 12 12
Russia* 10 0
(Moldovan diaspora)
7 0
Totals 175 111
Ukraine’s scores 323 211

*Russia includes multiple communities listed above. And Crimea, of course. Though is impossible to parse the pan-Russian televote score in the absence of the public release of any Crimea-specific results from the public televote.

With 175 out of 323 televotes from 19 of 41 possible countries, these countries accounts for 54 per cent of 1944’s televote total. And 111 out 211 jury points equates to 53 per cent of Ukraine’s jury scores. Again, we can’t directly attribute these points to a linear “our family was impacted by Stalin so I will vote for Jamala” fashion. But it might account for why in some of these places Jamala’s entry resonated. The farther West we looked, the lower the televote scores become. But is that because of a decreased Stalin diaspora effect?

Cross-Validating The Stalin Effect

To triangulate these results, we sought out data points from previous years’ Contests. As we are primarily concerned with televote scores in the Semi Final era, we went back as early as 2004. Combing through every year’s results would have been labourious: instead we sought some reasonable mechanism for honing in on specific years’ results.

In the end we decided to focus on years when Ukraine also did exceedingly well. Ukraine has been one of the most consistent performers in the Eurovision since their début in 2003: it has appeared in every Grand Final and never failed to qualify from a semi-final when required. Most of its entries have also finished in the top 10.

Therefore, for the purposes of our Stalin analysis we have defined “exceedingly well” as a top two finish. Jamala’s victory was Ukraine’s second; and it hae finished second two more times:

  Entry Score (Televote) Rank
2004 Wild Dances
280 1
2007 Dancing Lasha Tumbai
Verka Serduchka
235 2
2008 Shady Lady
Ani Lorak
230 2
2016 1944
534 (323) 1

From these results—in each instance focused on televote scores, regardless of the scoring system use that year—we decided to drill down and compare the Grand Final televote scores from our potential Stalin diaspora countries across these four years.  Here’s what we found: the next table shows the televote scores awarded to Ukraine in each of these four year’s Grand Finals. Mean refers to the average points award to Ukraine across these four years. Diff. refers to the difference between the mean score and the actual points awarded to Ukraine in the 2016 Grand Final.

  2016 2008 2007 2004 Mean Diff.
Armenia 10 5 6 x 7 3
Azerbaijan 10 10 x x 10 0
Belarus 10 10 10 10 10 0
Bulgaria 10 7 3 x 6.67 3.33
Estonia 8 4 8 12 8 0
Finland 12 3 6 8 7.25 4.75
(Armenian & Polish diasporas)
10 0 4 2 4 6
Georgia 10 10 10 x 10 0
Germany 6 0 5 6 4.25 1.75
(Georgian diaspora)
6 6 7 7 6.5 -0.5
Israel 8 10 10 12 10 -2
(Lithuanian, Latvian & Polish diaspora)
4 6 8 7 6.25 -2.25
(Moldovan diaspora)
12 X x x 12 0
Latvia 10 10 12 12 11 -1
Lithuania 10 6 8 12 9 1
Moldova 10 7 7 x 8 2
Poland 12 10 12 12 11.5 0.5
Russia* 10 8 8 12 9.5 0.5
(Moldovan diaspora)
7 7 7 8 7.25 -0.75
Totals 175 119 131 120 158.17 16.33
Ukraine’s televote scores 323 230 235 280  –
Percentage of total points 0.54 0.52 0.56 0.43

Anywhere you see an “x” indicates that the voting country in question did not participate that year. With 3 x’s, we can largely ignore Italy’s 12 points to Ukraine this year: one data point does not a trend make. Azerbaijan’s voted in two of these years, but they awarded the same points (10) both years. Generally the scores of Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia are consistent across most years. Not much there.

We found five countries awarded significantly more (2 or more) points this year compared to most years: Armenia, Bulgaria, Finland, France, and Moldova. However, we found only two that awarded significantly fewer points (-2 or more) to Ukraine this year compared to our other validation years: Israel and Ireland. The balance of countries recorded a marginal difference, between -1.99 and +1.99.

On average, ostensibly 16 points more were awarded across all these potential Stalin diaspora countries in 2016 versus our validation years. That’s perhaps one extra point per country. Means (averages) have this significant pitfall: the mean masks any significant fluctuations. But if we look at the data for some countries with respect to the most recent year (2008) and this year, it reveals the mean score masks what is arguably a more stark differential:

  • Armenia awarded Ukraine 5 points in 2008. This year they awarded Ukraine 10, an improvement of 5 points.
  • Finland awarded Ukraine 3 points in 2008. This year they awarded Ukraine 12, an improvement of 9 points.
  • France awarded Ukraine zero points in 2008. This year they awarded Ukraine 10, an improvement of 10 points.
  • Lithuania awarded Ukraine 6 points in 2008. This year they awarded Ukraine 10, an improvement of 4 points.
  • Moldova awarded Ukraine 7 points in 2008. This year they awarded Ukraine 10, an improvement of 3 points.

If we use these figures rather than the means, the Stalin premium from these countries is 31 points. ‘1944‘s’ margin of victory was 23 points.


‘1944’ carried significant momentum with televoters between the Semi Final and Grand Final: the jury story is a bit different. Juries tend to become a bit stingier with their points come Grand Final time. Which makes sense: there are more higher quality entries in a Grand Final. That means there is inevitably more competition for the 58 points awarded from each jury. As you can see below, even while improving her jury ranking from third (of 18) to second (of 42), ‘1944’s’ mean jury score was almost three points lower in the Grand Final:

  SF Jury SF Tele SF Total GF Jury GF Tele GF Total
Ukraine 135 152 287 211 323 534
Mean 7.94 8.94 16.88 5.14 7.88 13.02

Conversely, while there is also a bit (less than  1 point) of a drop in terms of mean televote score, racking up a massive number of televote points helped Ukraine—a lot. This was a Grand Final where both juries and televoters mostly spread the love  around: only a handful of entries were well regarded by both juries and the public: Ukraine, Russia, and Australia. The point gap between third (Russia) and fourth (Bulgaria) in the Grand Final was over 180 points!

To be concise: we cannot state with certainty that the “Stalin” effect played a part in Jamala’s victory. However it remains a plausible explanation for some of the public support Ukraine received this year–particularly if we look at the differentials between the levels of support between 2008 and 2016. In a year with double the number of points on offer, a 23 point margin of victor is a narrow one. When the scores are this close, the relatively small “Stalin bump” might well have put 1944 over the top.  And we congratulate Jamala on her victory.

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3 responses to “Did Stalin Win The Eurovision Song Contest For Ukraine?”

  1. […] connection with both the juries AND the televoters (our friends over at ESCInsight have done a fantastic article on the hypothesis of Stalin, be sure to check it out!). The cracks and squeals in her voice in her encore show the magnitude of […]

  2. Eurojock says:

    54% of the televote from 46% of the countries voting in the Grand Final. I would say that’s case not proven re the Stalin effect. As you say, if there was a Stalin bump it was a relatively small one.

  3. […] to turn 8’s into 10’s. We’ve already established that the Stalin-affected countries gave Ukraine an above normal boost and that could be hypothesised as supporting shared history. Add this to a televoting boost […]

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