On proper Stack Exchange sites, poll-style questions are not considered acceptable. They typically would serve only to measure users' opinions in aggregate, which is not constructive.

However, meta sites are a bit different. Determining users' opinions is one of their purposes. The scores of posts representing different positions are often taken as a representation of community opinion. In many cases these are long, detailed posts, which provide one user's justification for a position, but in some cases they are short posts which merely express the opinion itself. In these cases, the answers are serving as a de-facto poll, even if they may not be labeled as such.

On Meta Stack Overflow we recently had a discussion about what tag should be used for the new Swift programming language. A few different opinions were expressed in answers and comments. However, it was difficult to get an exact sense for how much community support there was for each possibility: some answers suggested multiple possible tag names, and there were many comments and answers suggesting the same tag names.

In order to more clearly judge the community opinion, I created a follow-up question which was explicitly structured as a poll. A single answer was posted for each possible tag name, and users were instructed to vote for the ones they preferred. If users wanted to respond at-length with an opinion that would not fit into the comments on the new question (none did), they were instructed to post answers on the original question. I wanted to keep the the limited to the poll options for clarity.

I did not just post poll answers on the original questions because users would be less likely to see all of the short poll options amidst the existing discussion and longer answers. Users who had participated in the thread could also not realize that there was any reason for them to return to the thread to express their opinion again in the form of a vote on a poll answer.

The use of the poll question was successful. Though the community's opinion was potentially unclear in the original question, in the poll question they indicated their preference for a particular tag name by a clear margin of 160 upvotes to 62 upvotes. This resulted in the tag name being changed.

In the discussion on the first question, one of the moderators declared that the tag name "swift" was not an acceptable option to him. The community did not express a clear opinion in that question, but the second poll question, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of the name "swift", and it was adopted.

From my perspective, the use of a second poll question seemed like a useful process wherein the community's opinion was clarified and manifested. However the moderator whose opinion was overruled did not agree, and he locked (not closed) the second question. When asked for an explanation, he said that "a poll like that was never a good, on-topic question". I disagreed.

In situations like this, is the use of a poll question acceptable? If not, what method is preferred for clarifying the opinion of the community when the existing state of the discussion leaves it ambiguous? As shown by this case, an ambiguous discussion does not necessarily mean that the community does not hold a strong opinion in a particular direction.

  • 1
    It's meta. Questions are answers. Answers are questions. Ponies and unicorns and waffles. I don't see how rules fit in to this…
    – bjb568
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 6:30
  • It's late here and I don't feel like typing a response right now, but I want to clarify that I did not lock it because I disagreed or my opinion was overruled.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 7:12
  • 2
    Doesn't it sort of make logical sense to lock a poll after the consensus is reached? You don't want the vote skewing years later and causing confusion. Better to leave that one locked and create a new one if needed
    – mhlester
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 8:12
  • @mhlester That sounds fine, and I would not object to that reasoning. However, when asked to explain the lock, he said the that question was not on-topic to begin with, and he just waited to shut it down until after the discussion-in-progress was finished. I am questioning whether such questions are indeed off-topic, or whether they are acceptable.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 8:40
  • meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/632/…
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


I understand that feeling that you can cut through all the BS if you just lay out all sides of the conversation and let everyone vote. But I believe it is much more engaging to let participants post their own answers rather than driving a type of forced-consensus where one person assume all sides of the conversation.

If it's a simple 'yes' or 'no' issue, the community can just as easily answer as such. But at least they're rallying around the options and thoughts they provided.

It isn't typically difficult infer what the community wants from a more-open format. But when you start with a pre-posted "vote-on-what-I-say" format, you can inadvertently remove a dynamic where someone might simply have the more persuasive argument that would otherwise cause folks to reconsider.

Polling is not a good substitute for discussion.

I've always broadened these these rigid, pre-posted conversations to a more open format, and I've never had an author or the community disagree with the reasoning.

  • 3
    The restrictiveness of polling does make it more useful for more shallow topics than complex ones. Polls are not a good substitute for discussion, but what about situations like the one mentioned in the question, where there is discussion as well as polling?
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 18:03
  • 2
    @JeremyBanks I see absolutely no benefit to having the original author post some 'yes/no' check boxes rather than letting the community rally around some answers they post themselves. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 18:06
  • 9
    "Polling is not a good substitute for discussion". I cannot agree more. I just feel that a poll may be useful to close off a discussion, or, as you say, be a simple yes/no vote.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 18:37
  • meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/a/904/759
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 19:18
  • "I've never had an author or the community disagree with the reasoning." Perhaps this is because you're an SO team member, with godlike rep and a diamond next to your name. I absolutely would have pushed back at you here if not for that. Your opinions here are more than just simple opinions: they carry a great deal of authority. So, don't be surprised if people don't resist them.
    – hBy2Py
    Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 17:26

Poll questions crop up on the meta sites all the time.

Anything from the seasonal "Do we want hats" to things like this.

As long as there is a declared deadline there should be no problem. Especially if the result is clearly posted afterwards.


To answer your question you also have to answer the question of "when is polling actually useful?" The inherent problem with polling is that you suck out all of the information behind each option, leaving only the option itself.

If you've ever taken an online survey, the first question they always ask you is "Have you ever heard of x?" If you say no, you don't take the survey. Some are even more complicated than that, asking a series of questions to determine if you're actually aware of the product they're surveying. That's because if you don't know anything at all about the product, then your responses aren't exactly useful to the company. It's just random data, which they could just as easily write a computer program to produce.

The same can be applied to this exact poll you're talking about. You're only showing the options, which is a fine way to wrap up a discussion, but only if all the users involved in the voting are aware of all the arguments for/against each of those options. When you only display the options themselves, it just becomes a popularity contest, which is not always the best solution for our site.

Sure, people can discuss it in the comments, but comments really aren't meant for extended discussions like that. They're hard to follow, they have severe length restrictions, and not everyone even reads them to find out about the option they're voting for/against. Moving the discussion into the comments severely impacts the discussion and almost makes it invisible. Figuratively, the highest voted answer has 164 score (180 up, 16 down, even though people weren't supposed to downvote). The highest voted comment on that answer has 23 upvotes, and that comment is even against that option.

While I didn't exactly agree with this method of finding a solution to this problem, I left it open to the community because we really needed a solution to the problem, and I didn't exactly care what the solution was anymore. That doesn't mean it's a great question or that we should encourage such behavior in the future, which is why it is now locked.

All that being said, the reason we didn't really reach any consensus on the original question is because it wasn't particularly focused on what the name of the Swift tag should be. There was a lot of side-discussion involving the already-existing Swift tag and how it should be disambiguated with this one, and suggestions for better namings were often lost in the comments. I think if there had been a separate discussion about only the naming of the new Swift tag, where users could suggest possibilities and their reasonings for those possibilities, there could have been a much more constructive discussion regarding the naming of that tag.

Basically, take your poll and remove the "only vote on the option you think is best" part and have a more strict moderation technique on making sure people provide reasons with their options, rather than just suggesting options. We even have a post notice explicitly for this kind of behavior, and in past experiences where I've seen it used, the notice and stricter moderation have worked quite well.


While I generally agree with Robert Cartaino's answer that discussion is preferable to polling, I have a substantial concern about this when the community isn't laying out all predictable sides of a discussion.

It is certainly important that a poll not cut off discussion, but there are also many individuals who may wish to make their voice heard, but may not feel up for writing a public argument for their viewpoint. For these individuals, the lack of an option they can put their voice behind being available silences their voice.

A pure poll shuts down debate as the Wikipedia article on the subject very well supports, but a vote on meta isn't really a pure poll. Anyone can add options to the discussion at any time. I could see some concern that having the OP pre-establishing options on multiple viewpoints may dissuade people from making a more accurate argument for a position they actually hold, but at the same time, I feel like if nobody in the community steps up to produce an alternative option which those who do not wish to speak publicly can put their voice behind, it fails to adequately represent the community.

In fairness, this is only likely to be a problem on a smaller site where a relatively small number of people are involved with Meta, as any large Meta is virtually certain to have someone who is willing to write up their side of things, but that isn't always the case. On smaller sites, it isn't uncommon to see a post with a single answer that has half or fewer of the votes that the question has, but with no comments and no other view presented, even after months of being posted. That discrepancy doesn't seem like it represents the community very well as it is then impossible to tell if the non-voters simply thought the discussion was interesting and didn't care about the outcome or if they had a dissenting view that remained unvoiced for lack of an available option.

I would argue that, in the case of a discussion post that is seeking to establish consensus, if there is a disproportionate number of people showing interest in the question and yet not responding to any of the existing answers, it may very well mean that some opinion is not represented, however nobody wishes to speak publicly on that opinion.

In the case that the missing viewpoint can be established, it may be worth adding that viewpoint (or perhaps either an "I don't care." or an "I don't agree with the other answers." option) so that those silent individuals have a chance to make their voice heard. I would only suggest doing this after a discrepancy appears and nobody from the potentially opposing viewpoint steps forward to present it.

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