Since questions with > 0 down-votes make up such a small percentage of all questions on SO is there a better system to mark questions down or should there be no down-voting at all?

The imbalance between up-voted questions and down-voted questions is huge.

If the down-vote is supposed to indicate that a question is not worth looking at, maybe the question should be voted to be 'buried' rather than displaying negative votes. e.g. it doesn't display on the home page.

As it stands, I believe that people can't be bothered down-voting questions because:

  1. There is no real lasting reward.
  2. There is not real lasting consequence.

Why? The question is still visible in searches and on the homepage.

Is there a better way or should there just be no down-voting?

  • 2
    I've wondered this myself. I see a lot of zero-rated questions that are atrocious. I think people just don't bother. It seems more useful to downvote a bad answer (where you have actual bad information being passed off as a solution) than to downvote a question, which is often harmless in itself.
    – siride
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:08
  • @siride this is why the Electorate badge exists; you can look up the related discussion if you're curious Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:38
  • 5
    @siride: A lot of people don't want to loose their rep. Even if it is only -1.
    – thyrgle
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:54
  • 3
    more often then not if your down vote a question or answer, someone else will just upvote it as they don't like down votes. So by down voting someone I am giving them +3 rep!!! Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 10:50
  • @Ian, I never thought of that before! Willingness to downvote... diminishing....
    – Pops
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 15:18
  • 1
    @Popular It's even worse if the person is already at one rep. I was one of five people to downvote a terrible question yesterday, and then it got one pity upvote (after the downvotes), so now the five of us are down one rep and the asker got +5 from the upvote Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 4:07
  • To those who are, stop thinking about the reputation of the target when you downvote a bad question. Don't dwell on the value of a "lost" -10 reputation on a 1 rep user's one question - it's still going to be at -4 score. Reputation penalties from downvotes are meant to accrued from continued poor behavior - it's really rare for a single question to curse the author to an inferno. Just focus on marking the bad questions from the good - that's what you should be thinking about when downvoting.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 12:34
  • @Grace: usually I'm right there with you on the don't-dwell-on-the-artificial-number-that-is-rep argument, but in this case, I think it's a valid point. For a new user whose question gets a score of -4 or so but nets a personal rep boost of 3 or 8, it wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude "that wasn't the best question ever, but I must be doing something right." That's certainly not the message we're trying to send.
    – Pops
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 13:12
  • @Grace, "so many" is a relative term. Who knows how many don't complain, and why?
    – Pops
    Commented Aug 10, 2010 at 13:27
  • I think that when you down vote a question or an answer, you MUST provide a comment. This way, it helps understand 'why' it was down voted and hopefully helps everyone improve themselves and makes the site that much better. Also, I'm sure that if down votes had traceability by having their username attached to such comment, rather than allowing anonymity, people who are down vote trigger-happy would think twice!
    – Jeach
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 17:02
  • Additionally (in supplement to my above comment), instead of having a counter of downvotes (ie: -1, -5, etc) you could simply have a question categorized as 'BAD' instead (or something as such). You could also have a 'confirmation' trigger to set a question to 'BAD' by having people up-vote the comment of someone who flagged the question as being bad. So now instead of having these anonymous people who keep down voting questions, they would need the community to set a question as 'BAD'... much better (democratic) system.
    – Jeach
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


Is there a better way or should there just be no downvoting?

Better way to do what?

If a question isn't appropriate for the site, there are already better mechanisms in place to remove it. Voting does something else: it ranks the post among its peers based on the aggregation of opinions expressed by everyone who votes.

This doesn't necessarily mean that an up-voted post is a great post. Or that a down-voted post is a bad post. It just gives you a place to start...

FWIW: a post with a low enough score will drop off of the front page.

  • 1
    My argument was that the ranking among peers doesn't reflect accurately the sentiment if the balance is heavily weighted towards the up-vote side. And that there are, in comparison, very few downvoted questions. re: FWIW, I didn't know that as I spotted a few on the home page that were -2,-3 etc.
    – going
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:38
  • @xiaohouzi: yeah, I think it's <= -5 that kicks 'em off. I won't disagree that more down-voting (or merely more careful up-voting) couldn't do some good, but as Jeff notes there's a fair bit of push-back. Ultimately, voting makes post-rank a democracy: the site's users get the site they deserve, for good or ill...
    – Shog9
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:44
  • I think the main problem with down-voting is that the system is used incorrectly. Rather than vote to close a poorly written question, a user simply down-votes and moves on. This is a disservice, especially to new users a) because they might not understand why their question isn't worth answering b) because if they do rectify the problems with their question, it will likely retain the negative score.
    – crush
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 14:59

First of all, thumbs down on your stealth title edit, which was rude.

If downvotes are irrelevant, that's strange, because I sure field a lot of complaints about them here and in email.

We believe downvotes should be reserved for the rare occasions when you have a strong reason to disagree about the content of a post. That's why downvotes cost the voter 1 rep, and the ability to downvote is only earned at 100 rep (typically) whereas upvoting is earned at 15 rep.

I've seen no evidence that downvotes aren't working.

  • 4
    It was meant to be a serious discussion that was high jacked by a couple of clowns who thought it would be funny just to downvote the question without providing a serious answer. I did actually spend some of my time to think about this and it was not a spam question. Depends on what side of the fence you sit on as to where the rudeness is.
    – going
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:10
  • 3
    Also, it was a question not a statement. I never said that I think downvotes are irrelevant (and I don't). I was suggesting there may be a better way to implement downvoting. Esp. if you are getting lots of complaints about them. Was hoping for a reasonable discussion.
    – going
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 5:35
  • 2
    @xiaohouzi: On meta down votes have different semantics. They simply mean "I disagree.". Certainly this is not the optimal way to manage it, but using the same engine for meta is a way of eating our own dogfood, and that makes it worth the oddness. The question ws not hijacked, it was disagreed with. This behavior catches a lot of new folks, but most don't edit their post titles into insults. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 6:49
  • 2
    @dmckee Well the user who down-voted left a comment that just said "I don't know you tell me". Which is hardly constructive. I also down-vote (on SO) but try to leave something constructive. It seems some people like to down-vote on meta just for a laugh (re. Jeff's question on a similar topic which has -22) which is about as funny and useful as my title edit.
    – going
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 6:54
  • @xiaohouzi: ::shrug:: Meta is also a little looser, more social in a rough, locker-room sort of way. You have suffered the equivalent of having a towel snapped at you. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 7:43
  • @dmckee Fair enuff, nobody likes a smart a.. I guess I'll just have to wear it this time.
    – going
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 8:18
  • 1
    @xiaohouzi: there is never an obligation to explain your downvote. On meta it indicates disagreement. If you have ever given a presentation and seeing people shake their heads at something you said, that is a downvote. They don't tell you why, all you can do is try to improve until they speak up or start nodding. Or ignore them, which is sometimes the only option.
    – devinb
    Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 15:40
  • Down votes are definitely NOT working! When I ask a very complicated technical question, its more than understandable that it may need some editing and clarification... it's part of the process! Now, when you say "you have a strong reason to disagree about the content of a post", that's the problem... you have some people that read the question diagonally and down vote and move on. No reason as to why, nothing. When you have 216K score such as yourself you can easily afford '2' reps even if not justified... while most users with much less reps are left feeling alienated and frustrated!
    – Jeach
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 17:16
  • 1
    I have to agree with @jeach. A big problem with down-voting is that the down-voters never return to review any types of edits that may have been made in lieu of the down-vote. Down-votes work great to get a question author to revise/rethink/rewrite their question, but once the edits have been made, the down-votes should be re-evaluated.
    – crush
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 14:56

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