Inside the 2023 Hugo Finalist Voting Statistics

1953: The first Hugo Award

The 2023 Hugo Finalist Voting statistics were released today by the Chengdu Worldcon committee. The nominating ballot numbers will follow later. Here are some of the stories to be told from those figures.

VOTER TURNOUT. There were 1,674 valid ballots cast, the lowest number in the past decade, and over 500 fewer final ballots cast than in 2022.

And although over the past ten years the number of final Hugo ballots cast has far exceeded the amount of nominating ballots in every year except 2016, Chengdu’s turnout for the nominating vote was 1,847, meaning participation diminished in the final round. This is, in hindsight, certainly unexpected after the record-smashing attendance at the Chengdu Worldcon.

BEST NOVEL. The winner, Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher, ran away with the category. It began with 252 more first-place votes than the eventual runner-up, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It clinched a win in the fifth round of the automatic runoff, finishing 348 votes ahead.

DOMINATING WINS. Although in 2023 a category could have as many as six runoff rounds if the result remained in doubt ’til the end, three Hugos were decided in the first round.

Samantha Mills’ “Rabbit Test” registered a first round majority win in the Best Short Story category. So did Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes, by Rob Wilkins (Doubleday) in the Best Related Work category. And Enze Zhao in Best Professional Artist did likewise.

Almost half the categories had decided favorites, with only three needing to go the distance. Here are the number of runoff rounds required to determine the winners in each category:

  • One – Best Short Story, Best Related Work, Best Professional Artist
  • Two – Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form, Best Fancast, Astounding Award
  • Three – Best Graphic Story, Best Editor – Short Form
  • Four – Best Series, Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form
  • Five – Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Editor – Long Form, Best Fan Artist, Lodestar
  • Six – Best Novelette, Best Semiprozine, Best Fanzine, Best Fan Writer

CLOSE CALLS. There were, nevertheless, three tightly-contested races.

Chris Barkley won the Best Fan Writer Hugo over RiverFlow by a single vote. After the fifth round of the runoff, when Arthur Liu with 139 votes was eliminated, 103 of his votes went to RiverFlow and 17 went to Barkley, with the remaining 19 having no further preference recorded.

Hugo finalists Arthur Liu and RiverFlow, File 770 contributor SanFeng aka Feng Zhang.

Best Fanzine winner Zero Gravity Newspaper finished eight votes ahead of Journey Planet. Interestingly, when Nerds of a Feather was eliminated after the fifth round it had 128 votes, but 42 of those votes had no further preference. The rest of its votes went to the remaining pair of finalists, Zero Gravity Newspaper getting 21 while Journey Planet inherited 65. Makes you wonder how it would have played out if more Nerds backers had an opinion about the other finalists.

In the other close call, Uncanny won the Best Semiprozine race by 18 votes after trailing Strange Horizons in every previous round. Both finalists picked up votes when FIYAH was eliminated, with Uncanny getting 49 and Strange Horizons 28, which made the difference.

ENDNOTE. As the Hugo Book Club Blog noted, none of the categories was in jeopardy of being cancelled under the 25% rule (see “Hugo Voting Threshold Reform Proposal”.)

33 thoughts on “Inside the 2023 Hugo Finalist Voting Statistics

  1. The low voter turnout was likely due to the difficulty in accessing the Chengdu site. This was the first Hugo vote Sandy and I did not participate in for that very reason.

    When the packet was released I was able to sign in to download. Sandy wasn’t able to. After that download I was never able to sign in again. The same issue affected our voting on site selection. We didn’t; again the first time in forty years we haven’t been able to vote in either.

  2. Camestros Felapton: My memory tells me there was at least one one-vote margin win in the past 10 years, for what that’s worth. I didn’t choose to spend a couple hours combing through all the stat reports to test that because it would be annoying to invest that time and find out there wasn’t one.

  3. While I am humble and grateful to be one of this year’s LUCKIEST recipients of a Hugo Award, my partner Juli and I had similar troubles with nominating works, downloading the Hugo Packet and voting for the Finalists

    I am saddened that these difficulties were the probable reasons that this year’s vote totals were off by a thousand ballots. That said, I hope we can avoid these sort of issues from now on…

    Chris B.

  4. …back from the PDF mines back to 2000
    2016 short story (but again impacted by Puppies)
    2015 No award wins a bunch for puppy reasons
    2014 best fan artist
    2007 Campbell
    2004 BDP -Long: Lord of the Rings three years in a row
    2003 BDP – Long
    2002 BDP – Long

  5. The low voter turnout was likely due to the difficulty in accessing the Chengdu site.

    Another possible factor in lower turnout is those of us who sat the Hugos out completely because we wanted nothing to do with this Worldcon.

    No offense intended to the WSFS members who did participate and enjoyed it, but I reached a point where the whole thing became a hard pass.

  6. Doctor Science: Some people in social media have said 20,000. Is it verifiable? I don’t recall seeing a Chengdu Worldcon post with a number.

  7. Mike Glyer on December 3, 2023 at 6:15 pm said:

    Camestros Felapton: What question is it you are answering?

    Sorry – examples of a Hugo category winning directly on first preferences.
    Not counting 2015, there are 6 examples from 2002 to 2022 (I think). All were in unusual circumstances though.

  8. This is, in hindsight, certainly unexpected after the record-smashing attendance at the Chengdu Worldcon.

    Most of the estimated 20,000 individuals attending Chengdu were not members with voting rights. Most of the people there attended on single-day passes (including packages of five single-day passes). None of those people were eligible to vote for the Hugo Awards. Those people who voted in 2023 Worldcon Site Selection or who explicitly purchased WSFS memberships after that were eligible to vote.

    The number of actual WSFS memberships was a number comparable to other recent Worldcons. The convention’s report to the 2023 WSFS Business Meeting stated 5,858 WSFS memberships, and included every vote cast in DC as an “overseas” (non-Chinese) membership, which is obviously incorrect.

    I have asked if we’ll ever get a count of how many WSFS members actually attended the convention, and so far nobody associated with Chengdu seems to think that they can get a reliable count. Optimistically, I suggest we might have had between 3,000 and 4,000 WSFS members on site. But everything appears to be sheer guesswork to me. And of course, Hugo Award votes are cast pre-convention, not at-con.

  9. Kevin Standlee: No, really, it’s okay for me to be surprised by things. You don’t need to carefully explain to me why I shouldn’t be surprised. Because I didn’t anticipate they would have 20,000 people there, but now that I’ve been told they did, I’m surprised there wasn’t a comparable success in expanding the domestic Chinese participation in Hugo voting. As you point out, people would need to have bought WSFS memberships to do that. Since I don’t know how marketing works in China’s science fiction community, all I know is I’m surprised that something which would have been in the interest of that community — more Hugo nominees and winners — didn’t happen.

  10. Mike: My impression was that a decent effort was made to market the Hugos to a local audience, and indeed you reported some of that effort here. Certainly nobody attending the convention could have been left in any doubt of the importance of the Hugos, and they came up frequently in my own interactions with Chinese journalists.

    But the fact remains that it is a tough sell. Average income and wealth in China are about a third of the United States, so that $45 or whatever it was for a WSFS membership represents a much bigger relative cost to a potential Chinese member, in return for the privilege of voting for a lot of stuff that they can’t read because it’s in English.

    Also, since the cost of attending was so low, I should think that a substantial majority of those 20,000 made the decision to attend only after the Hugo voting deadline had passed. So I really wouldn’t fault Chengdu for not trying, at least on this count.

  11. On a slightly different topic, I have records of Hugo voter participation going back more or less to 1971, and the only previous year where I have found more nominations than final ballot votes was 1994, for ConAdian in Winnipeg, when 649 votes were cast at nominations stage – a record high which was not beaten until 2003 – but only 491 on the final ballot, which is the fourth or fifth lowest of the 53 years I have any records for.

    I guess that there had been some rule change that made it easier to nominate, combined with (as this year) a convention venue that a lot of the usual crowd felt was rather remote (and I understand that getting a supporting membership in order to vote was much less of a thing then).

    The only other years where I find fewer than 500 total votes on the final ballot are 1985 (Australia), 1990 (the Netherlands), 1999 (Australia again) and maybe 2007 (Japan). In that light Chengdu’s 1674 maybe looks a little better.

  12. Nicholas Whyte: The 2016 Hugo Awards statistics available at the official Hugo Awards website report more nominating ballots were cast than final ballots.

    And it seems to me that during the nominating stage people were not limited to choosing things written in English.

    As to the average income of people in China, sure, but then you’re also aware of the criticism levied against U.S. hosted Worldcons for placing the membership rates (therefore the cost of Hugo voting) above the financial reach of many. That’s true too. The thing about averages, though, is they imply a population above as well as below or at that average level. China is no different than the West in that both have a large number of people who can afford to join a Worldcon even if there also is a large number who can’t.

  13. Anyway, going into this with the example of Nippon 2007 in front of us, where no Japanese language works were finalists (and virtually none even made the longlist), I’m glad there was enough participation to prevent a comparable failure in 2023. I can still be surprised there weren’t more Chinese finalists. I was honestly prepared for there to be a ballot full of things I couldn’t read except for a few works with English translations.

  14. There wasn’t a comparable success in expanding the domestic Chinese participation in Hugo voting, going by the Chinese commentary we’ve seen from afar, because the most enthusiastic fans became disilluioned after they joined what had been sold as a grassroots fan effort only to find the committee nakedly prioritizing business interests over theirs, so they collectively voted with their feet.

    They had a bone to pick with Chengdu, not the Hugos.

    Though, sure, casual fans, signing up at the last minute, must have thought: why pay extra money just to vote for one of these American Tor Books novels.

    Next time a Worldcon goes to Asia, things should go differently.

  15. Is there any way to tell how many nominating ballots were from Chicon members who weren’t Chengdu members? Two in this house at least.

  16. First time I did not nominate, nor vote, for the Hugos in literally 50 years.

    In 1993, you may remember, I won the Hugo by one vote. That was the year Charlie Brown was having such a good time celebrating the 25th anniversary of Locus that he couldn’t be bothered to vote.

    Big mistake!

  17. Nicholas Whyte on December 4, 2023 at 2:45 am said:

    On a slightly different topic, I have records of Hugo voter participation going back more or less to 1971, and the only previous year where I have found more nominations than final ballot votes was 1994, for ConAdian in Winnipeg,…

    I think that could be explained by ConAdian’s predecessor (ConFrancisco) being one of the largest Worldcons to date, while ConAdian had a lot fewer members. So the potential nominating electorate for 1994 (union of 1993-94 membership) was significantly larger than the potential final-ballot voting electorate. Also, ConFrancisco did a big mailing of Hugo Nominating ballots to its members, which I think made a difference. (I was WSFS division manager for both 1993 and 1994.)

  18. In the previous years there were also data on nominees (I was very interested in who ‘almost made it’) – is there anything this year. For example, I’m curious, was ‘Babel’ by R.F. Kuang censored or it was only popular among Goodreads fans and Nebula?

  19. @Oleksandr ZHOLUD : The nomination stats will be released at some point before the 90-day post-con due date, but there is no announced date for this to happen.

  20. Babel was a very surprising omission. I was even more surprised by that then I was by the omission of The Raven Tower in 2020 – and I think it will turn out to be for the same reason. But we’ll see.

  21. I just lost track of when I needed to vote since it was so much later than usual, and only realized a day too late. Usually, I enter them as I finish a category, but every time I used the site it was a bit annoying so only really wanted to do it once. The things that won I mostly liked, some even what I would have picked (which hardly ever happens).

  22. I have to concur that the $50 WSFS membership must be a barrier to entry. To put it in perspective, I had 2 dinners of hand cut noodles, plus beer and extra vegetables, for about $2 USD each. An hour+ subway ride into Chengdu city itself is $1. Museums, panda entries are $7. A 2 hours+ taxi ride to the Tianfu airport is less than $30 etc.

  23. Pingback: 2025 Hugo final ballot – quick take and details | From the Heart of Europe

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