Statistical analysis of voting patterns for the Eurovision Song Contest show they are not driven by prejudice and that the contest is not stitched up at the UK's expense.
Researchers at University College London and Imperial College London also revealed that musical talent is unlikely to be the only element that wins scores.
The analysis of voting patterns over the past two decades suggests that widespread support for certain countries' acts is based on positive loyalties based on culture, geography, history and migration. Yet these effects are small – and the team found no evidence to support Sir Terry Wogan's criticism that the contest is marred by blatant bias and discrimination.
"Migration seems to be an interesting explanation for some of the patterns that we see in the data," said Dr Gianluca Baio, of UCL, co-author of the study. "For example, Turkey seems to be scored highly by German voters, possibly due to the large number of Turkish people who have migrated to Germany, and potentially tele-vote from there. But our analysis found no convincing evidence of negative bias or discrimination against anyone – no country really has any enemies."
The team analysed voting since Eurovision introduced tele-voting in 1998. Computer analysis showed clusters of countries with similar behaviours, identifying the probability of each country belonging to a particular voting bloc in any particular year.
In line with previous findings, the results suggested that voting congregates within four broad groups of nations. One combines the former Yugoslavia, Switzerland and Austria, and another covers central and southern Europe plus a larger bloc which includes the former Soviet Union.
The UK, Ireland and Scandinavia, cleaves relatively randomly into two groups each year.
"In our analysis we used what we call a 'Bayesian hierarchical formulation' to model the scores," said study co-author Dr Marta Blangiardo. "We took into account factors like the language of the song and the gender of the singer both of which have known effects on the votes. This left behind an underlying trend for us to measure. This trend is based on cultural and geographical similarities, as well as migrations of people."
The model allows focuses on the presence of repeated voting behaviour over the years, rather than one-off factors.
"The observed data can only suggest whether there is bias, and there can be many reasons for this," Baio says. "To prove something stronger like 'discrimination' or 'favouritism', we would need more complex data, for example polling on people's motivations for voting the way they do.
Looking at the results country by country, Greece seemed to be favoured by its neighbours Cyprus and Albania, amidst a general delivery of positive votes, which is thought to be driven by widespread migrations of Greek citizens across Europe.
The study was published in the Journal of Applied Statistics.