The other day I saw an answer which was ok. Not great but not bad. So no reason to upvote or downvote. However the answer already had a single downvote. I felt this was unfair so upvoted the answer to keep it at what I felt was a fair score. It wasn't until afterward that it occurred to me that I should have perhaps solely voted on the content of the answer.

Is this a reasonable reason for an upvote or should I have left the answer alone?


7 Answers 7


You should always seek to vote based on the content of the answer, not by the current score positive or negative. That's what your vote is counting for, after all - vote for what you think, not for what other people think. Their own votes are used for their opinions, after all.

The sum total of the votes on a post is meant to express a sum total of people's opinion of the post. So if a post has one downvote and one upvote, it should indicate that one person found the question useful, and one person found it not useful. If that upvote was meant solely to balance the downvote, then it is deceiving people on two ends - it's lying that someone found the post useful, and it's lying that the voter found the post useful.

If you must vote up a user out of pity, at least make sure it's a post that you find useful enough to upvote in the first place. Pity may be a turning point if you're undecided about voting, but it shouldn't be the sole motivation.

  • 3
    This is a common argument, but I don't think it's what actually happens in reality. Take a look at Should good answers always be upvoted?. May 24, 2011 at 17:13
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    @ire Some people vote to balance, some people vote otherwise. Fact is, votes are meant to indicate opinions. The fact some people vote because they think other voters are wrong... honestly, some people form that kind of opinion outside of this site, as well. As long as the voter is backing that vote, I'm fine with it. I'm only opposed to "balance" voting, in either direction, that is done in a direction that you wouldn't agree with if the post were neutral, solely to contradict existing opinion. People are free to pick their own choice of what they find to be "useful", just as in your link.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    May 24, 2011 at 17:18
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    My point is more to do with what that number to the left of your answer really means to people. I think most users see that number as a perceived quality metric. Is your answer worth a 15? Or do I think it ought to be a 10, or a 20? If it's a long way off where I think it should be, I'm more likely to vote to nudge it in that direction. I think 'balance voting' is just a subset of this voting pattern. I suspect most users vote in this way. May 24, 2011 at 17:23
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    @ire The only reason something can be thought of to be "worth a 15" is by some value that is attributed to make 15 worth something. A 20 is worth more than a 10, but by how much? There is some necessary marker that the score must represent for people to even craft a scale for them to try and balance. Whether they literally treat it as representing the number of users who support it, I'm not sure what other basis they'd use to quantify that metric and to what end it is deserving. Anecdotally, most motivation I hear for "voting to balance" is "the other users are wrong in how they're voting".
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    May 24, 2011 at 17:27

I know this is a very unpopular opinion here, but I tend to agree with how you voted.

I often use my votes to push a question towards the score I think it should have.

The idea that the sum of the votes should represent the sum of the sites' users' opinions is fundamentally broken anyway. Only a tiny subset of the sites' users will vote on a given question. If every user voted on every question and every answer, it would be valid.. but that's never going to happen.

If I see a post at -1 that has nothing wrong with it, I will upvote it back to 0. I don't care what happens to the user's rep - I'm not voting on the user, I'm voting on the post. It's the system's job to figure out what my vote means in terms of rep.

  • 25
    It's an unpopular opinion, but I suspect a great number of users vote this way in practice. Ultimately, they're your votes to do with as you wish (within the limits imposed by various abuse/fraud scripts). As much as I might wish voting on SO to be based on the content (or voting for Gov't officials to be based on their positions and credibility) rather than on how other users are voting, at the end of the day all any of us can do is vote according to our own beliefs and trust that others will do the same.
    – Shog9
    Jan 11, 2011 at 21:57
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    In practice, I think most users use their vote as a way to adjust the perceived value of an answer towards a value that adequately expresses the quality of that answer. This is quite different from voting something up solely because you agree with or like it. May 24, 2011 at 17:19
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    Please don't do this.
    – Nicole
    May 24, 2011 at 18:26
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    Your opinion is ok, but just for a +2 or +3 score, not for a +5, so I downvoted it. Jan 13, 2012 at 17:43
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    @DanielDaranas haha fair enough - that is exactly what I was saying. Although I wouldn't usually bother attempting to "adjust" scores unless I thought they were on the wrong side of zero.
    – Blorgbeard
    Jan 14, 2012 at 0:18
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    If I see a post at -1 that has nothing wrong with it in your personal opinion. It's pretty mean of you to pee all over the opinion of whoever disagrees with you in this way by pretending you thought the post was greater than it was. Upvote if you thought it was "a great post" -- deciding that the "balance" of the post's score is your sole responsibility and nobody else's opinion counts is pretty offensive. Jan 22, 2013 at 1:56
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit you are being over-the-top ridiculous. I still only get one vote, so pretending that I'm overruling and "peeing all over" everyone else who used their vote differently is just stupid. If you upvote a post, are you "peeing all over" the opinions of anyone who downvoted it?
    – Blorgbeard
    Jan 22, 2013 at 4:06
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    @Blorgbeard: No, because I'm voting based on the merits of the post, not out of some self-given right to undo somebody else's right to vote. And you've done it again: someone's "over-the-top ridiculous" because they don't agree with Blorgbeard. Jan 22, 2013 at 4:07
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit No, you are voting based on your personal opinion of the merits of the post, just like me. You seem to think your method of deciding whether to vote on a post is the only valid one, and my method is offensively wrong (which I find weird). I suppose you never revert an incorrect edit, for fear of "peeing all over" the person you're reverting?
    – Blorgbeard
    Jan 22, 2013 at 22:33
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    @Blorgbeard: No - I certainly have no qualms reverting edits, closing posts and downvoting rubbish. I do it all the time, where appropriate, because that's how the site is supposed to work. Feb 3, 2013 at 15:50
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    In my mind, a question (or answer) with a negative score is a bad question. If I think there is some value to the question, then I will upvote it to get it at least to zero. I only have one vote, so if more people think that the question has no value, my attempt at balancing fails anyway. If the question was in the positive range, but I did not personally find the question useful, then I'll leave it as it is. I feel that people should vote how they feel is right.
    – jliv902
    Dec 11, 2013 at 16:05
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    Has it occurred to you that the original voter might know something that you don't, and has upvoted or downvoted for a reason that you don't understand? Or do you just assume that your half-warm opinion about the answer (it's not that good and it's not that bad) is worth more than the genuine opinion of the original voter, because you're smarter than they are? Mar 11, 2015 at 1:03
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    Has it occurred to you that every single upvote negates a downvote and vice versa? Why do you assume that my "half-warm" opinion is worth less than everyone else's (presumably fully cooked) opinion? How do you know that the original voter wasn't just flipping coins or consulting astrologers? You vote however you want; I'll vote however I want. But please don't labour under the illusion that your way is some kind of democratic ideal.
    – Blorgbeard
    Mar 11, 2015 at 1:41
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    It seems pointless to me to upvote posts that are already hugely positive and downvote posts that are already hugely negative. But I guess to one with such a strong mind as yours, it must seem like a noble endeavour.
    – Blorgbeard
    Mar 11, 2015 at 19:08
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    All these superior ideas contrary to what Blorgbeard said is insanity. In the end I have no more/less than one vote per post to use as I see fit; not to please "you" in delivering what idealist ridiculousness this site is "supposed" to be. If this site was supposed to consist only of some strict behavior voting wouldn't be possible seeing as you have no control over my vote. Plain silliness. If you take the negativity out of it it's no different than an election. I vote to negate your vote, what else is the reason; to exercise my democratic right; please. That's not the goal for most. Apr 2, 2015 at 21:08

It wasn't until afterward that it occurred to me that I should have perhaps solely voted on the content of the answer.

Yes, that is what you should do... If you hover your mouse cursor over the up/down-vote arrows, you'll see the intention is that you should indicate whether or not you feel the answer is useful - if it is, vote it up; if it is not, vote it down. There's no such thing as a "neutral" answer, IMHO - either it adds something of value or it does not.

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    There must be a "neutral" answer. Do you either upvote or downvote every post you read?
    – Blorgbeard
    Jan 11, 2011 at 21:43
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    @Blorgbeard: I'm lazy/stingy, but that proves nothing. I don't eat every pizza I see, but that isn't proof of inedible pizzas.
    – Shog9
    Jan 11, 2011 at 21:50
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    I disagree on the last part; there are answers that add value, answers that don't, and answers in a gray area where you can't quite tell whether they do. Like there are good pizzas, but pizzas, and pizzas that are neither. Jan 11, 2011 at 22:05
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    @Kop: if you were in charge of QC for a pizzeria, which pizzas would you allow to be served?
    – Shog9
    Jan 11, 2011 at 22:27
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    ok this metaphor is going too far :P But I wanted to add something else: since past a certain point the value an answer gives is objective rather than subjective, if everyone upvoted all answers that add value, the two answers would always have the same exact amount of votes. But maybe one was a good answer, the other a great answer. Would that be fair? Jan 11, 2011 at 23:36
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    @Kop: objective value? Pshaw, I vote on value to me! The first answer I see starts at an advantage because I didn't have to scroll...
    – Shog9
    Jan 11, 2011 at 23:43
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    Also, presumably there are posts that Shog9 is not qualified to judge the usefulness of. For example, I am a Java programmer, and I can't program in PHP. I therefore (generally) refrain from voting on posts related to PHP, because I am not qualified to judge whether they're useful or not. Mar 11, 2015 at 4:41
  • A neutral vote yields additional information as opposed to not voting at all.
    – dfhwze
    Oct 12, 2019 at 21:55

Pity upvotes from others actually make me think twice before I downvote posts that are currently at a zero score. (As the result of a pity upvote would still be +3 reputation for questions, and even +8 for answers, which might not get the message through to the poster). That's not good, I think.

(And note that for questions, downvotes are important for the automatic Sorry, we are no longer accepting questions from this account and its detection of low-quality posts.)

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    If pity upvotes are making you hesitate in downvoting, consider changing your motivation from teaching the user to lowering the vote score of the post. Ultimately, the purpose of voting is to rate the post on the site - the effects on the user are rather a side effect. It's unfortunate that the user might not learn from the mistakes, but the greater good is served by casting votes properly.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Jan 11, 2011 at 17:59
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    @Grace, actually I often comment right away (the teaching aspect), but await upvotes before actually downvoting (also because I like to remove a downvote after a post has been improved, but removing after a pity upvote effectively still gets a moderate question a positive score...). Not a good workflow, and I often wonder why some questions do get upvotes (but I'm not perfect either of course), but well...
    – Arjan
    Jan 11, 2011 at 18:07

I say no -- vote your opinion. Whoever put the original downvote there was voting their opinion. If you're going to vote other than your opinion "for balance", the logical progression is that you then need to watch that question forever to continually restore balance as the sum of other votes change... not sustainable or a good idea.

If questions or answers are getting bad votes from others, to a degree that's affecting the integrity of the site, that's a fundamental problem that needs a direct solution -- using your own vote isn't the right solution.

  • W.r.t. "you then need to watch that question forever to continually restore balance as the sum of other votes change", you seem to be forgetting that you only have one vote to expend on each question.
    – PolyGeo
    Jan 18, 2017 at 8:13

Try this approach when voting (a general approach - doesn't cater for all scenarios):

Ignore the current votes for a moment.
Consider your opinion of the question or answer based on it's own merits.
Would you choose to: upvote, downvote, neither, or don't know?

Once you have decided either way, then view the current votes and choose one of the following:

  1. Don't vote
    a. You are unsure - don't vote for the sake of it, or based on what others have voted
    b. You don't think it requires or deserves a vote either way
    c. You chose upvote but feel it already has enough upvotes
    d. You chose downvote but feel it already has enough downvotes
  2. Upvote
    a. You think it warrants an upvote, none of the above criteria is true
  3. Downvote
    a. You think it warrants a downvote, none of the above criteria is true

Here's some of those other scenarios: https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/15717/230506


Something that has not been mentioned in the answers is the phenomenon of crowd-voting.

Sometimes a question which is not that bad or it could be salvaged through editing is quickly down-voted to closure.

On the other hand, in the review queues, some people upvotes questions because it's the easier way to move on. And if 1 user upvotes it's more likely otherw will upvote not because they find the question useful but because someone else upvoted it.

Therefore, on certain ocassions when I feel this situations arise, I do vote to "balance" the final score.

  • 3
    Downvoted your answer to "balance" the upvote from whomever thought this was in any way a good idea Dec 1, 2012 at 19:00
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    Upvoted to balance the downvote. Dec 2, 2012 at 18:34
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    What a terrible thing to do! Lots of people liked an answer, so it must be worthy of your downvote. Or lots of people disliked an answer, so it must be worthy of your upvote. I can't see anything in this answer that makes the slightest bit of sense. Nov 24, 2014 at 18:27
  • 5
    there is no such thing as "Downvoted to closure". I don't know why people think this. Nov 28, 2014 at 14:40

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