I would like to echo a post that Scott Morrison made on Tex.SE. I think this is definitely something we are experiencing here on Math.SE. A link to the post here, and the text of the post:

"I'm a moderator from MathOverflow, and this "question" is actually unsolicited advice, based on our experience from the initial launch of MathOverflow.

We should encourage everyone to vote positively as often as possible!

Every Stack Exchange site will eventually end up with a different "base level" of voting --- that is, the expected number of upvotes for a question of a given level of excellence. (This effect occurs because people see a good question, but already with a certain number of votes, and think "oh, I would have upvoted this, but it already has enough".)

It's easy for us to affect this "base level" by encouraging high levels of upvoting now. We're setting the standards, and this really will have an effect.

(On MathOverflow, we were very active about this early on, specifically encouraging all the initial round of users to vote early and often. You can compare statistics, and see that the average vote total for a MathOverflow question is much higher than on any of the other SE 1.0 sites.)

In case it's not obvious: the rationale for wanting this base level to be high is that it provides better positive feedback to good contributors."

Also @Scott thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ There one on stats.SE too. meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/314/… $\endgroup$
    – kennytm
    Commented Aug 16, 2010 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ Can't agree more. $\endgroup$
    – KalEl
    Commented Aug 20, 2010 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ Am I the only one that thinks it is strange that easy questions get a lot of upvotes and harder questions do not? $\endgroup$
    – JT_NL
    Commented Nov 26, 2010 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ I dont think it is strange. I think it is annoying. I think it is sad. I think it is backwards. But not strange. Maybe I am wrong, but I would explain this simply as the fact that simpler questions have a wider audience which understand it, thus more people will think it is "good". What is significant are the questions that appear simple, but are not! I have said it before, and will say it again, one of my favorite questions of all time is the clothing topology question. This question was great for many reasons, but consider the difficulty. Easy to ask, very difficult to answer completely! $\endgroup$
    – BBischof
    Commented Nov 29, 2010 at 5:48
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    $\begingroup$ @JonasTeuwen From one possible perspective, one can understand an easy question much more quickly, which makes for a faster upvote. A harder question usually has more nuance, which requires more careful examination. I admit that I sometimes upvote questions that look like they're appropriate, without validating the mathematics of it all. There is, after all, something to be said for providing a small reward to a user who takes the time to properly write a question (even if the math involved might contain mistakes!) $\endgroup$
    – Emily
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ Will you upvote a question you don't understand, @JonasTeuwen? :=) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe this should be "vote early and often, but ignore trivial questions and in particular, ignore cheap answers to trivial questions". My impression is that the imbalance between the reward for cheap (but fast!) answers to trivial questions and the reward for sophisticated answers to demanding questions gets bigger and bigger. $\endgroup$
    – azimut
    Commented Nov 17, 2013 at 20:10

4 Answers 4


I would also add that the volume of voting seems especially low at the high end of the spectrum: i.e., for questions and answers pitched at the advanced undergraduate level and above. I suppose there is nothing morally wrong with this, but it does seem kind of backwards to me: most of the people who ask and answer these upper level questions could also be asking and answering lower level questions, and in the long run the "value added" by the site probably resides more in the higher level questions (which are less identical / isomorphic to questions asked and answered elsewhere on the internet).

For this I suggest that people who (can and do) read and understand more advanced questions be a bit more generous in their upvotes. If someone asks a commutative algebra question in a clear way and shows that they've made some kind of attempt to answer it, maybe that's worthy of an upvote even if the question itself is not very interesting to you. And it goes doubly for answers to upper level questions: I think that if you read someone's answer and can see that it is correct, then you are in possession of information that some other people would like to have and you should upvote to convey that information (namely, that the answer is correct).

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    $\begingroup$ +1: By upvoting more advanced questions and answers we are encouraging people to ask those kinds of questions and give those kinds of answers, which hopefully would lead to more such questions and answers on the site. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 7, 2011 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ Just upvoting this answer is not enough!! This is very true! $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Feb 8, 2011 at 3:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Pete Great Answer. $\endgroup$
    – user5783
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ I was just going to leave this page without upvoting... xD $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 4, 2018 at 18:53

I would like to make a note that

This effect occurs because people see a good question, but already with a certain number of votes, and think "oh, I would have upvoted this, but it already has enough".

is really true. I've recently seen some questions get the first $10$ or so upvotes really fast, and then the rate of upvoting decreases drastically. I watched this behaviour more closely on one of my own questions: about $1/3$ vote per view in the first 30 views, $1/100$ votes per view in the next $200$ views.

I don't mind that the expected number of upvotes for a question of a given level of excellence is rather lower here compared to other SE sites, but I think it is unreasonable to not vote when you like a question, just because someone out there liked it first.

I certainly know that will never stop me.

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    $\begingroup$ This is due to a serious design flaw in the software platform. Quick sloppy answers receive far more upvotes than slower well-thought answers simply because they are able to be posted quicker, and people do not often revisit threads to cast votes for later-appearing better answers. If you look at the answers of experienced mathematicians you will find that even though they often supply the best answers, these answers are frequently not the highest voted because they weren't first. Due to this I post quick drafts of answers and then revise them later. Otherwise the answer may never get seen. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 7, 2011 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque But this way you block other good answers which in turn may never get seen. You have >50k reputation, is it so important to get even more? I am sure, that the OP will read your answer whenever it was voted high or no. Imagine situation where everyone would do like that, this is madness! I agree that this is a design flaw, isn't there a way to show the answers with same vote count in random order? $\endgroup$
    – dtldarek
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ @dtldarek Huh? My point is that, due to the design of the platform, quickest answers receive the highest exposure. So if, as I, one desires to seriously attempt to teach here, then one is forced to rush answers, else they'll receive little exposure. Perhaps you view the the site more as "answer the OP" vs. "teach the community". I strive to do both. I'm not here to gain "rep" but to teach. Indeed, I've done the same for many years on similar forums (e.g. sci.math newsgroup) which have no rep measures. The one-dimensional SE votes don't provide good measures of anything (except answer speed). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque Alright, I am sorry, I misunderstood your comment. But then, shouldn't we actively work on proposing a better solution for this problem? This would allow the teachers to work on the answers instead of struggling with time and maybe also to decrease the probability that a really good answer would go unappreciated. I admit, I really do view the site more as "answer the OP", because I think those that want to be taught will just ask for it, I do not wish to impose myself on anybody. However, I admire your quest and wish you the best of luck! +1 for your attitude ;-) $\endgroup$
    – dtldarek
    Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ Relatedly, it bothers me when questions with large negative scores get "sympathy upvotes". Because the benefit of upvotes is much greater than the punishment for downvotes, that can often mean that people get net rep gain from terrible questions. (At the same time, there is a tendency when a post has negative score to view it more critically, so posts can suddenly nosedive in score as well...) $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 11:31

This is very important, I completely agree that people should be voting more.

Interestingly, Stack Exchange has recently changed the user page to include not only reputation, but also "voters." This shows a list of the top voters for the week, month and year. Hopefully this should encourage more people to vote more often.

Also note that this answers Carl Brannen's question.

Edit: I believe this issue needs to be discussed more as the amount of voting occurring on the site has dropped over the last $6$ months.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I think this SE has one of the least problems with voting, moreso than most Stacks, including Stack Overflow. Most helpful answers I see upvoted at least once, and even "easy" questions manage to get 2-3 upvotes. $\endgroup$
    – Uticensis
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with the edit, Eric, but I think this merits a whole new thread. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: I am planning on creating a new meta thread soon (likely for the start new year), to bring this to the attention of the community once again. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ Very good. I'll be waiting. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Dec 25, 2012 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ Has there actually been less voting? Or has there just been less voting per question (or per answer), since the number of questions has gone way up? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson: I have been running some queries. The number of questions has almost doubled, and the number of votes has gone up a lot as well, however votes per question is down. The reason for creating a new thread is so that new community members see it, and adopt the community standard for voting. An unfortunate side effect is that old community members see the same post yet again. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 26, 2012 at 8:10

It might be possible to get some statistics on this by examining the ratio of "total votes" to "days active" or "length of membership".

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    $\begingroup$ data.stackexchange.com/mathematics/s/600/… $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Moron; Hmmm. I'm 635 votes in 25 days, wonder why I'm not on the list. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ That is a snapshot of March 21st. $\endgroup$
    – Aryabhata
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 21:38

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