I've noticed a psychological effect with my own voting, and am curious to know whether anyone else sees the same thing. Simply put, if I see a correct or good answer, I don't always upvote it, if the answer has some reasonable number of votes already. Similarly, if a post already has several downvotes, I usually don't bother downvoting further (some sort of "they've been punished enough" logic, I suppose).

I think this is because in my head I'm unconsciously thinking of the number of votes as a 'rating' or 'score' indicating the quality of the answer. I then find myself thinking "this answer is correct, and the best one here, but it's not that great, it's worth about 4 points." So I don't upvote. Although it's hard to disentangle from other variables like number of views or age, I suspect the same effect may be a feature on many of my own answers rated by others - the answer reaches some sort of natural level, as judged by the community... and then sits there, with only very minor subsequent increments.

Since becoming aware of this tendency in myself, I've been thinking more carefully about what the vote represents. There are clear problems with using the number of votes as a quality rating, the most obvious of which is that the scale isn't normalised in size, and is also function of time. But, irrational as it is, I still feel this bias against answers with votes (positive or negative)!

To summarise my question:

  1. Has anyone else experienced this?
  2. Do you ever find yourself voting in this way, or should a good answer always receive an upvote?
  3. Is there a general consensus on what a vote represents?
  • 13
    I'd upvote this question, but I'd say it's about a +4 question, so I won't vote ;-) Commented Aug 20, 2009 at 17:05
  • 5
    @Nathan Koop - Your evaluation seems pretty good so I up-voted your comment to "1"... right about where it should be. Commented Aug 20, 2009 at 17:17
  • 6
    It so much deserves a +4 that I downvoted it, helping you with your rep generator Commented Oct 27, 2012 at 23:00
  • If votes on answers imparted no reputation external to the question thread, normalization would be unnecessary since answer rankings are only internally relative in the thread. If upvoting isn’t free, the external reputation accumulated by “excess” voting reflects true value and isn’t a dilemma for meritocracy. Limiting profit to “fair value” is Marxist, not free market. Afaics upvotes aren’t entirely free and presumably sock puppets must generate Q&A content else their upvoting is reversed. Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 17:31
  • Also when not upvoting due such Marxist attitudes, you destroy the value of your own time by not recording your evaluation of the quality of the answer, in case you ever need come back again and review. Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 18:08

8 Answers 8


Yes, I would admit casting/not casting a vote based on the current activity.

The "Everything's in Order Here" Syndrome

If I come in after the voting activity has already settled in, and the voting levels seem to reflect the best posts, I often feel like "everything's in order here... move on."

The Exceptional Standout

If any particular post is truly exceptional, I might want to throw my vote into the ring, despite the already-high vote score.

The "Unsung Hero"

But, if activity is low and I see something interesting, I will more likely up-vote it (to celebrate the "unsung hero", so to speak).

The Intervention (aka, you haven't hit bottom, yet)

And, yes, I don't tend to down-vote an already beaten-down post... unless I think it is really so bad that the barrage of down-votes has not yet truly reflected its deserved bottom.

  • I completely agree with these scenarios! They sum up the most frequent potential situations perfectly. (The Exceptional Standout is why I upvoted this)
    – James
    Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 5:29
  • Plus One for the absolutely true breakdown! :D
    – kumarharsh
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:37
  • Dah, Unsung Hero is a badge. Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 20:27

I think it's clear that people use the number of votes something already has as one of the factors in deciding whether to upvote.

I've noticed this with my own answers. If I get in an answer that is deemed correct such that no one else bothers replying it'll be rare that answer will get above 10 upvotes.

But if you have a question with a lot of answers—especially if that question is somewhat subjective—and you get upvoted answers that are different then the chances of getting upvoted higher than you otherwise would are much, much higher.

You also see this where the "wrong" answer is accepted. If people deem your answer to be better, a "wrong" accepted answer also increases the likelihood your answer will get upvoted. I think people view this as some kind of protest vote.

An exceptional answer can still attract upvotes way beyond the influence of any of these factors, such as Is 23,148,855,308,184,500 a magic number, or sheer chance?

  • +1 Even though for me it's not a huge factor.
    – Sampson
    Commented Aug 20, 2009 at 16:32
  • 3
    stackoverflow.com/questions/941283/… is a prime example of a highly upvoted answer (jalf's) that is that way (imho) at least in part due to a subpar accepted answer.
    – cletus
    Commented Aug 20, 2009 at 16:58
  • @cletus definitely true, I've noticed on my own answers as well: people want to vote you up if your answer isn't the top of the stack but they feel it should be.
    – TM.
    Commented Sep 21, 2009 at 13:46

I think this is because in my head I'm unconsciously thinking of the number of votes as a 'rating' or 'score' indicating the quality of the answer

I do this consciously! What matters most is that the best answer is the first answer, or at least fairly near the question. If it's not, I'll vote in a way that pushes it in that direction. So yeah, I generally don't waste votes on decent, but already highly-ranked answers, and I'll often down-vote other answers to a question if it'll help the answer I consider "best" float to the top.

I make an exception for exceedingly subjective, non-CW Q&A though, since there's no real point in trying to "convert" others to my opinion by voting. I'll occasionally down-vote all non-CW answers though, as sort of a "heads up: are you sure you wanted to answer this"?

I've been thinking more carefully about what the vote represents

My votes represents my opinions as to which answers I like best. That is all.


You only get so many votes per day, so I think people are wise to conserve their votes and use them where they can have the most effect, usually that means on posts that are near to zero in their vote tally.

Unrestricted upvoting and downvoting is usually reserved for truly exceptional posts.

  • 4
    Maybe I'm not enough of an SO addict, I never run out of votes, and I generally vote on the "best" answer I see if I see one.
    – TM.
    Commented Sep 21, 2009 at 13:46

I also follow some similar pattern. If the answer has been down voted enough, I will let it be as it has already been defined. Unless it is offensive or completely out of line, then I will further down vote it.

With upvotes, I think of a rating system also, the most upvoted should be the correct answer and well put together. It is nice to have other answers that add or contribute to the answer as well, so they deserve some upvotes as well. If it already has a few upvotes though, I won't upvote it further unless I really like the answer.

Then there is meta, where we up and down vote partialy based on agree/disagree of the OP's request.


I always upvote the answers I know are good, but have noticed the tendency to not add downvotes to already downvoted answers.


I will gratuitously upvote (ie, even if the answer has an inordinate amount of votes), if, after reading the question and getting an idea for an answer I:

  • see the 'new answers posted' banner and i see the answer I was going to submit, or I
  • see an answer that gives me an insight/perspective that I didnt already have

Otherwise, I do follow the whims of my ego - looking to upvote (for karma) on solid answers or restrain when considering the total and 'what it says' to the casual observer.

Downvotes I reserve for non-downvoted answers that are misleading. Luckily I have the delete option for my own answers that fall into this category.


I will not upvote every good answer.

My upvote will go to you if it meets two criteria:

  1. I am interested in the topic.
  2. It is currently the best answer.

Note — this applies to non-meta sites. I throw around votes on Meta much more freely.

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