2015 Hugo Analysis: Category Participation

My posts have been slow these last weeks—my university is starting it’s Fall semester, and I’ve been getting my classes up and running. I’m teaching Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Nathanael Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer across my three classes this week. Strange combination. Toni Morrison, Edith Wharton, and Benjamin Franklin next week!

Today, I want to look at category participation: how many people voted in each of the Hugo categories. Historically, there has been a very sharp drop off from the Best Novel category (which has around 85% participation) to the less popular categories like Fan Writer, Fanzine, and the Editor Categories (usually around the 40%-45% range). The stat we’re looking at today is what percentage of people who turned in a ballot voted for that particular category.

There are a lot of categories in the Hugos, and it’s unlikely that every fan engages in every category with the same intensity. That stats show that, but the 2015 controversy changed some of those patterns in interesting ways.

Let’s take at a big table of data from 2011-2015. I pulled the numbers directly from the last five years of Hugo packets, and what my table shows is the number of total ballots and the number of votes in each category. Divide those by each other, and you get the percentage participation in each category. Notice how skewed 2015 is compared to the other numbers; we had a total change in voting patterns this year. Click the table to make it larger:

Table 1: Participation in Final Ballot Hugo Categories, 2011-2015

Hugo Participation, 2011-2015

A lot of numbers, I know. Let’s look at that visually:

Percentage of Voters

That’s a very revealing chart. Ignore the top turquoise line for the moment; that’s 2015. The other four lines represent 2011-2014, and they’re pretty consistent with each other. Participation across categories declines until the Dramatic Presentations, then it declines again, then spikes at Best Professional Artist (who knew), before declining again. Best Fancast began in 2012, messing up the end of the 2011 line in the chart.

Historically, the ballot plunges from 85%-90% for Novel down to 40%. Even the major fiction categories (Novella, Novelette, and Short Story) manage only about 75% participation. Those declines are relatively consistent year to year, with some variation depending on how appealing the category is in any given cycle.

Now 2015: that line is totally inconsistent with the previous 4 years. Previously ignored categories like Editor grabbed an increase of 30 points—there’s your visual representation of how the Puppy kerfuffle drove votes. Thousands of voters voted in categories they would have previously ignored. I imagine this increase is due to both sides of the controversy, as various voters are tying to make their point. Still, 80% participation in a category like Editor, Short or Long Form is highly unusual for the Hugos. Even the Best Novel had a staggering 95% participation rate, up from a prior 4 year average of 87.4%.

Not every category benefitted in the same way. Let’s see if we can’t chart that increase:

Table 2: Increases of 2015 Hugo Participation Over 2011-2014 Participation Averages
Table 2 Increases

Last three columns are key. I averaged the 2011-2014 stats, and then looked to see how much they increased in 2015. If you take that absolute value (i.e. 80% to 90% is a 10 point increase), you can then calculate the percentage increase (divide it by the average value). That shows us which categories had the biggest relative boosts. Best Novel only increased slightly. Categories like Editor, Short, Editor, Long, and Fan Writer had huge relative boosts. The categories with little controversy, such as Fan Artist, didn’t enjoy the boosts other categories saw. A visual glance:

Chart 2 Percentage Increase

So, what did we learn from all this? That there was a Hugo controversy in 2015, and that it drove huge increases in participation to categories that had previously been ignored. I think we knew that already, but it’s always good to have the data.

Here’s my Excel file with the numbers and the charts: Participation Study. All data on Chaos Horizon is open, and feel free to use it in any wish you wish. Please provide a link back to this post if you do. Otherwise, you might want to check out my similar “Hugo Nomination Participation” study, which looks at the same data but in the nominating stage. It’s linked under the “Reports” tab.

Up next: the 2015 nominating numbers!


5 responses to “2015 Hugo Analysis: Category Participation”

  1. Devin Smith says :

    This post exposes flaw with the voting system that’s unfortunately hard to overcome, and I think drove the No Award in Editor. Many years, a lot of people don’t know how to vote in the category. This year, they still mostly didn’t know how to vote, except for one thing: they knew they didn’t want any slate candidate, or a particular slate candidate to win, so they hit it with No Award. “I’m sure I don’t want the following candidate to win” is not a votable preference in an IRV-like system, so Mr. Ward got many, many votes…

  2. Stuart Hall says :

    The professional artist peak is interesting. I was wondering how much overlap there is between the artists responsible for the covers of the nominees for best novel and the professional artist nominees.

    • NatLovin says :

      Doesn’t seem like it from a short glance.

      Working backwards:

      2014: John Harris did the cover for Ancillary Justice; Fiona Staples did the art for Graphic Story nominee Saga (Phil Foglio (’08 nominee) did the art for Graphic Story nominee Girl Genius; Michael Whelan (’06 nominee) did the cover for the final volume of Wheel of Time)

      2013: No overlap (Phil Foglio (’08 nominee) did the art for Graphic Story nominee Girl Genius; Fiona Staples (’14 nominee) did the art for Graphic Story winner Saga)

      2012: No overlap

      2011: Stepehn Martinière did the cover for The Dervish House. (Phil Foglio (’08 nominee) did the art for Graphic Story winner Girl Genius)

      2010: No overlap (Phil Foglio (’08 nominee) did the art for Graphic Story winner Girl Genius)

      2009: No overlap (Harris (08 nominee) did the cover for Zoe’s Tale; Phil Foglio (’08 nominee) did the art for Graphic Story winner Girl Genius)

      2008: John Harris did the cover for The Last Colony; Stephan Martinière (winner) did the cover for Brasyl.

      2007: Stephan Martinière did the cover for Rainbows End

      2006: No overlap (John Harris (’08/’14) eventually did a cover for Old Man’s War, but I can’t figure out when it came out)

      2005: No overlap

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