Social Science and Statistics: Exploring why Eurovision should have more jury members
For a couple of years, I’ve found myself pondering: why five jury members? I mean obviously they couldn’t have hundreds, or it would bleed the piggy-bank dry. But it got me thinking – if the EBU had unlimited funds, theoretically, what would we the ideal number of jury members? I’ve decided to use the magic of psychology and social science to explore further.
In a sense, a Eurovision jury is meant to be a form of musical democracy. Both in the Eurovision bubble and in the greater community it has been repeatedly debated whether decisions made by jurors sufficiently represent opinions of a country.
Currently each National Jury shall be comprised of five members, including a chairperson. A back-up juror must be nominated to maintain the five-juror rule. Members of the National Juries must pursue one of the following professions within the music industry: radio DJ, artist, composer, author of lyrics or music producer and once participating as a Jury member they’re not allowed to be recycled for another 2-years into the position. Note in the EBU rulebook also encourage “…balance among the members of each National Jury to ensure sufficient representativeness in terms of gender, age and background.”. Jury members are instructed to focus on vocal capacity of the artist(s), the performance on stage, the composition and originality of the song, and the overall impression by the act.
Everything is sounding reasonable and workable – but is it ideal?
The research behind jury size in criminal law usually focuses jury size verses impartiality and jury size verses accuracy . In Eurovision terms: jury size verses impartiality towards music genre/country/artist/etc. and jury size verses accuracy of votes relative to the other jury members/public televote/global music standards.
Currently whether jurors discuss the contest amongst themselves prior to voting is down to their notary (the person responsible for overseeing the vote in their home nation) – for the sake of drawing comparisons let’s say all jurors discuss first. Substantial studies have compared 6-juror panels verses 12-juror panels. Generally, research into criminology agrees that larger juries debate more vigorously, ultimately allowing them to make better decisions. It found that larger juries also increase the chance of individual prejudices being evened out, so that those with strong views about race, gender and sexuality [2,3].
Additionally, larger groups increase the likelihood that a dissenter (someone with a differing minority opinion) will have an ally (or several), those in the minority in larger juries will be better able to resist pressure to yield to group pressure . Overall research favours a 12-junor panel over the smaller 6-junor panel. If applied to Eurovision studies would conclude that generally a better more impartial decision would be derived if we doubled the jury size.
We’ve witnessed over the last few years more than a few dodgy jury results – for example, it has become a trend for nations that are expected to do well voting down their rival entries. Take the Russian Jury results from the 2019 contest for instance:
Of course, it’s possible that four out of five members found ‘Arcade’ and ‘Soldi’ to be substandard, but it’s unlikely. Both times one juror voted against the grain placing Italy first and The Netherlands third. In smaller groups it is much easier for jurors to make ‘unanimous’ decisions – if we increased the panel size there is a higher chance for minority jurors to have an ‘ally’ who might agree, making it easier to speak up during jury debate.
From another school of thought – using research into judging panel size from various sports, generally increasing the number of judges remove the effect of any one judge and make results reflective of a broader base of opinion [5,6]. For example, see the scores for Austria from Israeli juries in 2018 below.
In this case, the gap between ‘Nobody But You’ and 10-pointer ‘Dance You Off’ was large enough for Austria to claim the 12-points regardless of the score from Juror A. However, historically there have been many cases of single scores bringing down an entire average and changing points awarded significantly. In tighter years where every point counts it wouldn’t hurt to have a larger jury size to dilute these effects.
In my humble opinion I would love to give larger juries of 10 a trial as I think it would decrease bias, better impartiality and deliver more fair results for our contest – and the research tends to agree. Is it going to fix all the problems the jury system has? Of course not. Is it going to improve voting between Armenia and Azerbaijan? Nope. But – nothing ventured nothing gained. I don’t believe it would significantly hurt the contest to trial it for one year, scrutinise the results and then decide from there.