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Wednesday 23 August 2006

Some Analysis of the 2006 Locus Poll

Results of this year's annual Locus Poll & Survey were published in the July and August issues of Locus Magazine, respectively. (The poll winners are posted here.) The survey results included category by category comparisons of this year's results with results of past surveys, along with discussion by Carolyn Cushman of changes from year to year, and trends over the years. This analysis looks at some demographic trends in patterns of voting for the poll, and in the poll results themselves.

As in previous years, hundreds of ballots are received, but relatively few of them fill out a majority of categories in the poll. With 15 categories on the ballot (sf novel, fantasy novel, first novel, YA book, novella, novelette, short story, collection, anthology, nonfiction, art-book, magazine, editor, artist, and publisher/imprint), each allowing five votes, a voter could have voted for 75 items on their ballot.

The range of actual votes went from 75 all the way down to 0. Of 962 valid ballots received in the 2006 poll, only 45 of them, 4.7% of the total, completely filled out every category. At the other extreme, 16 voters submitted ballots without any poll votes at all they only completed the survey portion of the ballot.

The average number of poll votes per voter in 2006 was 27.8 (out of a possible 75), with a standard deviation of 21.7.

This represents a slight drop from the 2005 poll, when 55 (6%) of the 913 valid ballots had all 15 categories filled, and 20 didn't vote for anything at all. The average was 30.2 votes, with a standard deviation of 22.

In 2004, there were 14 categories for a potential 70 nominations per voter. Of 629 valid ballots, only 29, or 4.6%, filled out every category, and 19 voters didn't vote for anything. The average number of nominations per voter in 2004 was 29.8 (out of 70), with a standard deviation of 19.5.

Of course, some categories are always more popular than others. Here are the numbers, where the counts of voters are the number who nominated at least one item in the category.

category 2004 voters 2004% 2005 voters 2005% 2006 voters 2006%
total 629   913   962  
SF novel 538 86 756 83 732 76
Fantasy novel 514 82 768 84 807 84
YA novel 346 55 558 61 461 48
First novel 408 65 660 72 623 66
Novella 360 57 511 56 574 60
Novelette 374 59 503 55 523 54
Short story 356 57 519 57 549 57
Magazine 453 72 639 70 633 66
Publisher 502 80 699 77 695 72
Anthology 440 70 544 60 559 58
Collection 413 66 563 62 605 63
Editor 402 64 595 65 582 61
Artist 330 52 540 59 528 55
Nonfiction 351 56 408 45 464 48
Art book     390 43 335 35
Subscribers   62%   53%   46%

As usual, the most votes come in the novel categories, with the publisher category almost as popular, while art book, nonfiction, YA, and short fiction categories receive votes from the fewest ballots.

The major voting trend is the increasing percentage of non-subscribers who've been voting in recent years, presumably discovering the ballot online without ever having even seen the magazine. The percentage of non-subscribing voters has increased, from 38% two years ago to 54% this year.

Could there be any difference in how subscribers vs. non-subscribers vote?

category 2006 voters % total % subscribers % non-subscribers
total 962  
SF novel 732 76 88 69
Fantasy novel 807 84 87 84
YA novel 461 48 50 48
First novel 623 66 73 62
Novella 574 60 68 54
Novelette 523 54 63 49
Short story 549 57 63 54
Magazine 633 66 78 57
Publisher 695 72 80 67
Anthology 559 58 67 51
Collection 605 63 75 54
Editor 582 61 73 51
Artist 528 55 59 53
Nonfiction 464 48 56 42
Art book 335 35 43 30

Non-subscribers vote less often in every single category, coming closest to the rate that subscribers vote in the fantasy novel category (87% of subscribers voted there, 84% of non-subscribers), with the greatest divergence in the SF novel and magazine categories (with a 19% difference), collection (21%), and editor (22%).

Breaking down the ballot coverage for all 2006 voters -- i.e., an average number of poll votes of of 27.8 (out of a possible 75), with a standard deviation of 21.7 -- subscribers averaged 33.9 votes per ballot (SD 21.0), and non-subscribers averaged 23.2 votes per ballot (SD 20.9).

- - - -

So, you may be wondering, did subscribers vs. nonsubscribers differ in *what* they voted for? Well, yes, and several of the final results would have been different had one or the other group been in charge. (Complete results of the actual poll are available in the August issue of Locus Magazine, but are not yet posted online.)

To begin, the winning SF and fantasy novels, Accelerando by Charles Stross and Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, were both strongly favored by both groups of voters.

In the First Novel category however, John Scalzi's Old Man's War won a slight plurality of non-subscriber votes, while subscribers favored, by a fair margin, the eventual 3rd-place finisher, Counting Heads by David Marusek. There was more overlap among second and third place votes in the two groups for Elizabeth Bear, whose Hammered/ Scardown/ Worldwired novel in three volumes prevailed in the final tally to win the Locus Award.

In the YA book category, subscribers preferred Carol Emshwiller Mister Boots by a fair margin, but non-subscriber preference for Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple's Pay the Piper prevailed in the end.

Both groups preferred the winning novella, Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners".

In the novelette category, there were more subscriber votes for the stories by Peter S. Beagle, Paul Di Filippo, and Howard Waldrop than for the overwhelming non-subscriber, and eventual, winner by Cory Doctorow, "I, Robot".

The non-subscriber margin of victory for Neil Gaiman's "Sunbird" in the short story category was two to one over the next ranking story, but it led among subscribers, too.

Subscribers preferred Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction: 22nd Annual Collection for best anthology, but non-subscribers preferred the Datlow/Link/Grant Year's Best Fantasy & Horror by an almost two to one margin, pushing it into the overall lead.

The non-fiction book result was, like the first novel result, a compromise: non-subscribers tied Gary K. Wolfe's Soundings and the eventual winner, Kate Wilhelm's Storyteller, while subscribers preferred Neil Barron's Anatomy of Wonder: 5th Edition by a substantial margin over either of them. When the votes were combined, Wilhelm squeaked through.

The magazine winner, F&SF, the winning publisher, Tor, Ellen Datlow for best editor, Michael Whelan for best artist, Kelly Link's collection Magic for Beginners, and art book Spectrum 12 by Cathy & Arnie Fenner led among both groups.

- - - -

Similar slicing and dicing of votes could be done along any number of demographic boundaries. A quick glance at first-place votes reveals, for example, that female voters preferred Robert Charles Wilson Spin over Charles Stross' SF novel winner Accelerando; male voters preferred Carol Emshwiller's Mister Boots over Yolen & Stemple's YA Book winner Pay the Piper; male voters preferred Gardner Dozois in both the best editor and best anthology categories; and the Nonfiction book that got the most female votes was Joseph McCabe's Hanging Out with the Dream King: Conversations with Neil Gaiman and His Collaborators, which ranked only 6th in the overall results.

-- Mark R. Kelly

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