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Is voting to balance in the spirit of the site?

Here are the guidelines for upvoting questions.

Unfortunately, it seems like people are upvoting some medium-quality questions, not because they think that the question deserved an upvote, but because they disagreed with an existing downvote.

Here's an example, where the voter (who had around 2.4k rep at the time) left a comment explaining that his upvote was a tactical one:

Who knows, fixed it by upvoting it back to 0..

"Fixed it"?! That offends me. We are supposed to be voting on the quality of the question, not meta-voting on the perceived quality of previous votes in order to try to skew the final, collated outcome.

That is, some other person had decided that the question was, in their mind, worthy of a downvote and it's not fair for that vote to have been "undone" purely on the merits of the vote itself.

Unfortunately I would also be offended were somebody to instruct me how I must cast my vote, so I don't see that there's a way to "fix" this problem. This was already covered in a previous meta question on the issue. The only real way to solve the problem would be to hide the question score entirely (akin to elections in which results are withheld until polls close), but then it's all rather pointless, isn't it?

However, surely we can state for the record that this behaviour ought to be discouraged?

  • This has definitely been discussed before. But I can't find it. – Mysticial Nov 16 '12 at 18:45
  • @Mysticial: Are you thinking of the very similar but not quite identical question I link to in my penultimate pargraph? – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 18:46
  • It wasn't that particular example, but it's along the same lines. – Mysticial Nov 16 '12 at 18:47
  • This is a similar discussion: meta.stackexchange.com/q/74666/172431 – madth3 Nov 16 '12 at 18:47
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    Ultimately, voting is a personal choice, and that one example you found is from someone who's been here for all of 41 days. Is this really such a problem? – Martijn Pieters Nov 16 '12 at 18:47
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    Oh, your question is at -1. Let me fix that. – yannis Nov 16 '12 at 18:49
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    @MartijnPieters: I think it undermines the entire purpose of the voting system. If I'm going to take my time to vote on Stack Overflow, then I want question scores to mean something and be useful. Normalising to zero score for no actual reason is not useful. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 18:50
  • @madth3: Oh, yes, I think that's a dupe actually. Ta. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 18:50
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    I suppose if you actually explained the downvote, then it's less likely to get any mercy upvotes. – Mysticial Nov 16 '12 at 18:52
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit So you downvoted a post just because someone else gave a pity upvote? Doesn't that mean you were meta voting too? – Servy Nov 16 '12 at 18:56
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    I suppose you're welcome to use the term "tactical" in whatever way you like, but your usage is inconsistent with the fairly well-established term "tactical downvoting," which means downvoting others' answers to a question you answered in an attempt to make yours rise higher and look better by comparison. – Pops Nov 16 '12 at 19:21
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    @jadarnel27 that asks how much it happens; this is about what to do when it does happen. – Pops Nov 16 '12 at 19:27
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    @PopularDemand: Actually I'm using it the way the rest of the world uses it; I think SE's common definition of "tactical downvoting" is in fact slightly at odds with the broader common definition. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 19:37
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    Indeed, and I intentionally avoided saying that anything was wrong with your way. But the "SE definition" is sensible in context, and I see it as a "when in Rome" situation. – Pops Nov 16 '12 at 19:40

At the end of the day voting is subjective, and while we can provided intended guidelines, people can and will vote for whatever reason they want. Voting fraud, in the form of sock puppeting, voting circles, or serial downvoting (the user, not the content) is the only form of voting that the community has considered it appropriate to actually regulate.

While voting, in either direction, for certain behaviors is liked/disliked by many individuals, restricting the freedom to vote would have major negative consequences.

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Yes it should be discouraged.

That does not mean it needs to be regulated by moderators or the system though. Community policing and calling people out for doing so is the best way to discourage this practice. I know in the past I have encountered people that do this all the time. Supposedly they disagree with the ability of posts to go negative, so they upvote every negative post they see.

The community should stand together and let these people know that their actions are unwelcome in the community.

IOW: You did the right thing to bring it here and call the people out. Let the community decide how to balance the question/answer out and say what needs to be said to the people involved.

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  • How would you propose to do so however without a clear admission of the voter on his behaviour and motivations? – Bart Nov 16 '12 at 19:21
  • I don't propose to do so. – GEOCHET Nov 16 '12 at 19:23
  • So you feel very strongly about something you don't propose to take any action about? Interesting. – McCannot Nov 16 '12 at 19:25
  • So this is all hypothetical then? – Bart Nov 16 '12 at 19:26
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    Um. I don't think you even read my answer. Not all 'solutions' are direct totalitarian actions. – GEOCHET Nov 16 '12 at 19:26
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    I don't think you understand what the word "totalitarian" means. – McCannot Nov 16 '12 at 19:27
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    @McCannot: I feel very strongly that our current politicians should not be in power at this exact present time. However, I do not propose to murder them or incite a coup. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 19:39
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    Totalitarian, adj.: Of, related to, imposing, or being a system of government in which consumption of only one brand of breakfast cereal is allowed. – Shog9 Nov 16 '12 at 19:47
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    @Shog9 this is all a ruse to make us argue over which cereal to choose and forget about the waffle option altogether, isn't it? Crafty. – Pops Nov 16 '12 at 19:50
  • @PopularDemand Total waffles? Might have to try that sometime. – Servy Nov 16 '12 at 19:52

The comment

Who knows, fixed it by upvoting it back to 0.

just made the author's intent explicit. Beyond that, there's little way of determining someone's intent with their voting.

If I vote for a particular candidate, am I voting for the candidate, or voting against his opponents? You don't really know unless I tell you.

If such tactical voting gets flagged, then people will just stop commenting on why they're voting the way they do. It won't eliminate tactical voting.

Maybe I vote something up because the downvote got my attention, and I think, "The question/answer is better than the downvotes suggest," and I have the option to cast my vote. That's in essence what the person at the top of my answer did.

But let's chase the rabbit a little more: "What is a tactical vote?" What makes it tactical? Why is one vote tactical but another isn't? If a person isn't in effect voting twice or voting for his own stuff, what does it matter what you call it?

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  • Normal voting is voting +1 or 0 or -1 on the question's quality. Tactical voting is voting for your desired final score, and it's completely silly! – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 19:12
  • I agree with @LightnessRacesinOrbit for the most part, but I frequently vote in order to push the best answer to the top, even if there are a few other answers that probably deserve a vote. Is there something wrong with that? Is that "tactical"? Is it bad that I want (what I perceive to be) the best answer to have the highest score? – user159834 Nov 16 '12 at 19:20
  • @WesleyMurch: That's an entirely reasonable purpose for voting on answers--not so much on questions, though. – McCannot Nov 16 '12 at 19:26
  • I wouldn't say it's "entirely reasonable" but it's certainly not something that I personally would go out of my way to discourage. Unlike for questions. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 19:42
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit: What? Once a questioner has solved their problem, the only reason for the post to exist is as a resource for other people encountering the same problem. Ranking answers by how useful they are is not just reasonable, it's the essential reason for voting on answers at all. – McCannot Nov 16 '12 at 19:56
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    @McCannot: But Stack Exchange has decided that the rank of usefulness be determined by the OP "accepting" a single answer. There is no indication that the +1/0/-1 voting system should work any other way for answers than it does for questions; it's just a bit less important. We do not rank posts: posts are ranked automatically by collating the votes of multiple people, so by trying to manipulate the final score on your own, you're subverting that community-driven mechanism. – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 19:58
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: So your contention is that people exercising their ability to vote are subverting the community mechanism of "people can exercise their ability to vote"? That's double-plus ungood, indeed. – McCannot Nov 16 '12 at 20:14
  • @McCannot: Perverse, isn't it! :) – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 16 '12 at 20:51

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