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2015 Hugo Awards Post-Mortem

The 2015 Hugo Award ceremony was yesterday. I hesitate to say "the awards were given out", because five six categories received no award -- every category that contained only slate finalists was no-awarded. And the only winner from any of the slates was Guardians of the Galaxy, in Dramatic Presentation - Long Form, which I suspect would probably have won the award anyway. Most of the slate nominees in Short Form also beat No Award, but in every other category, No Award beat all of the slate picks in the final count, and received more first-place votes than most of them. Although I wouldn't call this a victory, exactly, it is the best outcome we could have hoped for, with the slates repudiated and some truly excellent winners chosen.

Lots and lots of virtual ink has already been spilled on the voting and nomination data, and there is sure to be much more. It's been interesting to see the alternate universe slates (io9 has the most complete take), but that's actually less important to me than considering implications for future. When I started playing with the data last night, I did it with the hopes of answering two questions: how many anti-slate voters were there, and how many Sad and Rabid Puppies actually participated in the nominating process?

Chaos Horizon has done a first pass on the voting statistic already (although I feel like they may be double-counting some people to get their estimate of 500 Rabid and 500 Sad Puppy voters -- I'll be interested in the more detailed reports they've promised), and they come up with about 2500 hard-line anti-slate voters, and another 1000 who voted mostly anti-slate with some exceptions. This lines up with the numbers as I calculated them. Together, these voters make more than half of the electorate. This is a pretty solid block, and it proves to my satisfaction that a slate cannot win at the Hugo Awards. The community simply will not permit it.

Controlling the nomination process is another story. The Puppy picks for most categories received between 150 and 300 nominations, and even in the fiction categories that's enough to take over the ballot -- The Goblin Emperor, which would have missed the final ballot if a Puppy author hadn't declined their nomination, received 256 nominations, while the Puppy pick to make the final ballot with the fewest nominations was The Dark Between the Stars, with 263 nominations out of 1827 nomination ballots cast. Down ballot, where works have historically made the final ballot with very few nominations, the differences are more lopsided: Best Fancast, for example, in which the lowest-ranked Puppy pick, Dungeon Crawlers Radio, received 158 nominations, while non-slate podcast Coode Street (which was on the ballot in 2014) just missed the final ballot with 68 nominations (668 ballots total).

So it doesn't take many people to overwhelm the nominations, when so few people participate. As for how many there were, from my analysis I'm going to guess that there were somewhere between 250-300 Sad and Rabid Puppies, split about evenly, with a slight tilt toward the Rabids. I base this estimate on a few things, including the differences between vote totals for works and people listed on both slates versus those listed on only one, and in particular from one of the few categories where the two Puppy factions went head-to-head: Best Short Story, in which both slates listed four of the same works and a fifth that was different. The Sad pick, "A Single Samurai", received 132 nominations, while the Rabid pick, "The Parliament of Beasts and Birds", got 151. Obviously this still makes for a rough estimate, and the number is probably higher in the Novel and Dramatic Presentation categories, lower in categories further down-ballot, but it's a reasonable starting place.

2,122 total ballots were cast in the nomination phase this year. If we use my high estimate, 300, that's about 14% of the nominating ballots between the two Puppy groups. But that was last year. What about next year? If the Puppies see this year's reaction as a success, and there's plenty of indication that they're at least spinning the result that way, they'll certainly be back. And in larger numbers -- bear in mind that anyone who cast a Hugo vote this year is eligible to nominate in 2016. If we're looking at as many as 700 new voters, that brings the slate contingent up to a thousand, and if the rest of fandom nominates in the same numbers as last year, they'd be 35% of the nominating electorate. That's pretty grim.

But remember, they aren't the only contingent with increased numbers. We're also looking at at least 2,500 voters who are anti-slate, and can be expected to nominate accordingly. If they nominate. The most important thing we can do right now, in my opinion, is convert as many of the new voters into nominators as we possibly can. Given how scattered the non-slate nominations are, it's harder to make a guess as to how many 2015 voters are new, but I have to imagine it's a substantial percentage. One thing we do know: a record 3,587 people cast final ballots in the 2014 Hugo Awards; this year, that record was smashed with 5,950 ballots. Some of those new voters were almost certainly slate voters, but even if the Chaos Horizon high estimate is correct, about 1,600 of the new voters joined to vote against the slate. If we can convert those voters into nominations, and convince other people who have historically voted but not nominated to participate, the numbers start stacking up against the slates again. If every person who voted in 2014 had nominated in 2015, the Puppies would have been less than 10% of the electorate, and it would have been harder for them to take over.

I acknowledge that it's difficult for a diverse electorate to break a slate entirely, under the current rules of the WSFS. I understand that both rule reforms proposed at today's business meeting passed, but nothing will take effect until after the 2016 Worldcon, and since the proposals conflict eventually we will have to decide between them. That's an important effort for the long-term, but it doesn't help us next year. The expansion of the nominating pools that would be required to beat an organized slate in 2016 is, I think, beyond the capacity of the community right now. But by encouraging everyone who cast an anti-slate vote to nominate, we can certainly make it harder for them to overwhelm the ballot completely. All we can do is try-- and I think we have to try. Because I can guarantee that the slate makers will be doing the same.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/716704.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.

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