Why Does Malta Keep Flopping At The Eurovision Televote?

Destiny Chukunyere singing “Je Me Casse” for Malta at Eurovision 2021.
Photo by EBU/ANDRES PUTTING

After the cancellation of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, Malta came back for the 2021 edition stronger than ever. Represented by Destiny Chukunyere, a former Junior Eurovision winner, the small nation presented Je Me Casse: an upbeat pop track with empowering lyrics where Destiny showcased her vocal range. The song rapidly became a fan favourite and rose in the betting markets, who predicted Malta to be the clear winner until a few days before the competition.

However, during the night of the Grand Final, after amassing the thrill of 208 points (3rd place) from the juries, Malta received only 47 points (14th place) from the televote, dragging Destiny down to seventh place overall. Although the result surprised some casual viewers, Eurovision fans had already anticipated an outcome like this for the country. In fact, Malta has a long history of televote disasters, which often raises questions about whether the nation can win Eurovision at all. For this reason, I gathered data from the Eurovision televoting results to see if there is an actual bias against Malta from Eurovision viewers and, if there is, what are the reasons behind it.

A never-ending struggle?

Malta does indeed struggle with appealing to viewers. Since the televote was introduced in 1998, the country has only received good results in four finals (last in 2005) and three semi-finals (last in 2021), while finishing in the last places of seven finals (last in 2019) and four semi-finals (last in 2018). The results are barely divisive (as shown by the low standard deviations), meaning that countries often “agree” to give Malta similar positions in their rankings, excluding the finals of 2014 and 2016.

Even worse, Malta usually finishes at the bottom places of every country. For instance, in their 2017 Semi-Final, they received no points from the televote and finished in the bottom 3 of sixteen out of twenty countries. Similar results were experienced in 2015, where Malta ranked dead-last for one-third of all countries, and in 2018, where they ended last for the second year in a row and received points from only two countries.

In 2018, Malta was predicted to qualify for the Grand Final. The televote ranked them last with 8 points.

These poor results hint at a televoting bias against Malta, but can we point out a reason for the country’s constant struggles? A great deal of the Eurovision community blames it on Malta being a “small nation” and lacking a diaspora vote, but this is nothing more than a myth. The following are some of the most popular explanations of Malta’s televote results:

  • Small nations like Malta are often unknown to televoters. Thus, they struggle to get points from viewers.
  • Unlike countries with high emigration, Malta has few diaspora voting and voting allies, which results in losing points from the televote.
  • Malta usually gets an unfortunate running order to perform in, making it harder for viewers to remember their entries and vote for them.
  • There is no particular reason for Malta’s constant failures, apart from bad luck.

There is no bias against small nations

Recent editions of the Contest confirm the lack of correlation between a country’s population and the points they will get on the televote. For instance, Iceland (341k. inhabitants) has been receiving 180 points two editions in a row whilst San Marino (34k.) reached tenth place in the 2019 Grand Final and fourth place in the Semi-Final with 124 points. Malta (442k.) achieved second place at this year’s Semi-Final with the thrill of 151 points and has entered the televoters top three on another three occasions (1998, 2002 and 2005). Furthermore, after highly populated nations like Spain, UK and Germany went home with no points this year, it’s clear that countries at Eurovision play at an equal playing field.

Malta benefits from diaspora voting

The belief that small nations cannot benefit from their diaspora is simply false. There are significant Maltese communities in Australia (more than 200k.) and the UK (28k.). Interestingly enough, these countries often place Malta at their top ranks: even in the editions when most countries placed Malta last, Australians gave them between 6 and 7 points whilst the UK viewers, although less reliable than the fans down under, often rank the Mediterranean country at their top ten.

Moreover, Malta has some strange but very loyal voting allies. The country has been scoring strong results among Armenian and Azerbaijani viewers for years, usually receiving 5 or more points from each. Even Denmark seems to rank Malta higher than the rest of the participants. Coincidentally, the few points the country has received over the years have mostly come from its allies and diaspora. Thus, Malta has as many voting allies as any other participant in the Contest and their status as a “small nation” cannot really be blamed for their poor televote results.

In 2016, Malta received 16 points from the televote. All of them came from Australia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Malta usually performs at great spots

The impact of the running order on a country’s results has always been a controversial debate for several reasons. Firstly, linear correlation analyses cannot be performed (i.e.: it’s not a matter of “if you perform first, you get the last place”) since there is a myriad of factors making a running order spot better or worse, like the entries performing before and after or the proximity to a commercial break. Moreover, since producers of the shows started deciding the running order themselves in 2013, it might be that those songs getting the better spots were already the favourites to win. Still, in 2014 ESC Insight estimated that a difference of 20 to 30 points could arise from a better or worse running order, which would translate to a difference of 40 to 60 points in the current voting system.

But even if the running order had a meaningful impact, Malta has performed at very favourable positions in the last editions while being unable to score high results: in the finals of 2012, 2014 and 2016, the country was one of the last six to perform and yet, it got less than 20 points from the televote. Malta also closed its semi-final in 2016 and 2021 and still could not win over the viewers. Overall, the running order is not strong enough to explain Malta’s constant struggles, although it might have contributed to their result in 2021.

We can’t confirm there’s a bias against Malta

Out of the four hypotheses presented above, I’m more inclined towards the last one. First, complete televote data is only available from 2014, which is not enough to tell whether or not certain countries are purposely raking Malta at lower placements. Second, most of those underwhelming results can also be attributed to matters surrounding the performance like the lack of a polished staging (2016), song appeal (2018) or performer’s charisma (2019). In the early 2000s’ Malta appealed perfectly to televoters, so there is no reason to believe that they are doomed to fail twenty years later. On the contrary, I think Maltese fans should be hopeful for 2022.

Yes, this year, Malta was “killed” by the running order

An early running order might explain Malta’s underwhelming result in 2021.

As was said before, Malta closed this year’s Semi-Final and got to the televoters second place, ranking in the top 3 in thirteen out of eighteen voting countries. Only after Destiny performed sixth in the Grand Final was the country left with no chances. Malta received points from fifteen out of thirty-eight countries but was extremely close to scoring at another twelve, most of which had ranked the nation at their top placements in the Semi-Final. If we take the previous evidence, a more accurate result for Malta would’ve been a figure between 80 and 100 points (about 9th place on the televote), which is somehow consistent with the song’s aftershow popularity. Perhaps the country was destined not to flop this year (or the running order favoured them at the Semi-Final).

We know that Malta has all the necessary tools for a successful televote result in 2022. Like other participants, the country counts with reliable voting allies and is often favoured by the running order. We also know that “small nations” are just as capable of excelling as their “bigger” neighbours. If Malta keeps sending well-produced tracks, talented performers and polished stagings, it will be a matter of time before they replicate their success in the early 2000s.

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University student. I spend time thinking about Politics, Film and Eurovision (especially the last one)

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Carlos González Soffner

Carlos González Soffner

University student. I spend time thinking about Politics, Film and Eurovision (especially the last one)

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