A recent question was put on hold as "off-topic". The initial question text (as it has changed):

Has any story, movie, TV show depicted a spaceport on either of Mars' moons, rather than a spaceport on the surface of Mars?

At least 5 users voted it off-topic, presumably because they considered it a list question.

Multiple answers which had already been provided to that question, including the Accepted answer, received multiple downvotes, with @Valorum explaining that he at least was downvoting the answer because he felt the question was off-topic and he wanted to discourage the user who posted the answer:

comment regarding downvote

My question: Is it a reasonable practice to downvote answers, not on their intrinsic quality, but as a reflection of the voter's opinion of the question they are in response to?

Not asking: Was the question on-topic or not? Don't care. There's plenty of evidence that "Has any" translates to "Could someone provide at least one example of" rather than "I would like a list of" - consider multiple accepted and upvoted questions such as this, this, this, this, this, ...... In any case, the question has been edited, and revived, so this is moot. And the issue of whether we punish answer authors based on the question should be the same regardless of the quality of the question.

Not asking: Should the points be restored? Don't care. Mine was the accepted answer, I lost points to the downvotes, but I couldn't care less about the points.

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    For the record (and for the avoidance of doubt) I was the one who downvoted all of the answers on that obviously off-topic question, and for the reason above. Note that OP has now changed their question to a standard Story-ID format and I am presently reconsidering my position – Valorum Dec 13 '18 at 17:18
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    Also for the record, I don't think @Valorum was the only downvoter, and I wasn't trying to single him out, merely quoting him since he was the one who clearly stated a rationale. I'm glad he commented, and that he's participating here, this is a good process. – gowenfawr Dec 13 '18 at 21:29
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    Personally I am on the fence here; I sometimes feel an urge to downvote, especially if the question is obviously off-topic and the answerer a user who should know better, but I rarely downvote for that reason... however, I certainly sympathize a bit with those who do. In this case, though, the concern is "can an experienced user reasonably consider this question on-topic?" and then also "should we be downvoting such answers before leaving comments to explain that, instead?" I usually leave a comment the first time I see a high rep user doing this. – TylerH Dec 13 '18 at 22:01
  • It's reasonable (and ideal) to vote any which way you want, provided you do so at all times with consistency. Which means basically: no. Not if you aren't going to check back once a month for the rest of your life to DV any new answers that show up. If you're willing to be consistent, go nuts with w/e you're doing. – Mazura Dec 14 '18 at 0:38
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    @Mazura Why is that ideal or reasonable? I don't see the argument for your approach. – Z. Cochrane Dec 14 '18 at 4:02
  • How should I vote? – Mazura Dec 14 '18 at 4:34
  • @Z.Cochrane - Just saying if you're going to randomly once, DV a bunch of answers instead of just the question because it pissed you off, that's wack. But if you're willing to fight the crusade and are going to behave like Valorum: with utter consistency, carry on. – Mazura Dec 14 '18 at 4:46
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    @Mazura If the question is closed, you won't need to keep checking back for new answers. – Rand al'Thor Dec 14 '18 at 19:18
  • I've never saw someone who 'didn't care' about something and then went on to provide not one but five examples that prove his point. Me thinks you doth care a bit... – RyanfaeScotland Dec 17 '18 at 9:37
  • @Mazura: I fail to see what an ancient proposal from 2014, which has not been implemented, and which has no answers indicating which parts of it were agreed to, is applicable here. If you're now using that to suggest that people are required to vote on new answers in accordance with their old votes on the same question, I'm going to reject that as absurd and obviously contrary to community consensus. You didn't say anything like that in your MSE post, and if you had, they would have downvoted it. – Kevin Dec 20 '18 at 23:01
  • @Kevin - All that is, is my personal perception of how people should vote (that 16 other people agreed with). Whatever which way it is, the way you vote is reasonable, if you're prepared to follow though, consistently. You've caught me between answering the title and the body. For the title, see above: If it's consistent, it's reasonable. For the body... you need to ask about someone other than Valorum, because afaik, nothing they do is unreasonable or inconsistent. - I made that post because I was tired of vote questions everywhere. Your vote is your vote. – Mazura Dec 21 '18 at 1:10
  • I'd link to Lightness Races in Orbit's profile that talked about how your upvote isn't to reverse someone else's DV (but it's changed now). That's the argument for my approach. It takes two to tango. SE needs more DVer's lest this site be crap. But again, that's all up to you. Just freaking be consistent. – Mazura Dec 21 '18 at 1:13
  • @Mazura: Humans are not robots. It is entirely unreasonable to demand that people "be consistent" when most of us spend less than 10 seconds deciding how and whether to vote. – Kevin Dec 21 '18 at 1:16
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    I mean, what's the point here? Are we going to make a rule that says you can't do this? That's absurd. Are you trying to rally other people into reversing DVs? Also not cool. – Mazura Dec 21 '18 at 1:17
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    @Mazura: I understand your position, I just don't agree with it. – Kevin Dec 21 '18 at 1:56

According to Stack Exchange network policy, yes this is reasonable.

See Should one downvote answers to off-topic questions? on main meta. The top answer says yes because answering bad questions encourages people to ask them. The second answer provides a more technical explanation for why to downvote such answers: because it might help the question to be auto-deleted sooner.

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    Fascinating. Seems like an exception to the "be nice" policy in order to meet technical requirements. Maybe they should add a "yeah, pile on the kill votes once it's on hold" button to reduce the conflict. Good link, thank you. – gowenfawr Dec 13 '18 at 16:26
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    @gowenfawr I don't think "be nice" says anything about not downvoting. It's true that in general votes should be based on the quality of the post, not on "I don't like what you did" - so personally I don't agree with this practice. But here I'm just quoting SE policy. – Rand al'Thor Dec 13 '18 at 16:27
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    @gowenfawr The mentality of "downvotes aren't nice" is troubling on these sites. Downvotes are for content curation. If you're seeing general downvotes for reasons that the users personally justify as "not nice", you should reconsider what the votes actually mean. People are free to vote how the feel is correct on questions, if they justify the vote more than "I downvoted all your posts because I don't like you" then it's basically their right to do so. – JMac Dec 13 '18 at 19:07
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    @gowenfawr: Other than voting fraud, you can pretty much vote however you like. There's no policy, and voting is explicitly out-of-scope for "be nice" because otherwise it would threaten quality control. Basically, you should think of a downvote as meaning "This is not the kind of content that I personally want to see on this site." – Kevin Dec 13 '18 at 20:01
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    @JMac Foundationally, StackExchange uses votes to place a value on the quality of a question and the quality of an answer. We discourage "voting for/against a user" as opposed to their content. Once that vote is used to comment upon the actions/intent of the user rather than on their content, that's shifting into a pejorative model, which is what I was trying to get at. Mentioning the "be nice" policy was a very sloppy way of describing that, and in hindsight confused the issue rather than clarified, my bad. – gowenfawr Dec 13 '18 at 21:21
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    @gowenfawr That's still missing half the point of what I've said. You aren't using the downvote specifically to comment upon the actions or intent. You would do it because you feel it is not good content and therefore vote it down the same as any bad content. In many people's eyes, answering a bad question makes it a bad answer, because any answer that promotes the idea of answering questions that should be closed is inherently not good. It's no more a "comment on the actions/intent" as it is to downvote an answer that doesn't make sense. It provides feedback on what is good or bad. – JMac Dec 13 '18 at 21:29
  • The second answer there is wrong behavior, per Shog: meta.stackoverflow.com/a/307010/2756409 – TylerH Dec 13 '18 at 21:50
  • @JMac so the half I missed is, perhaps, "a rose in a garbage heap; now matter how pretty it is, the fact that it's in such a horrible vase decreases its value"? The downvote is for the 'big picture' (the context of the answer within the question) and not for the florist being so foolish as to place the flower there? – gowenfawr Dec 13 '18 at 22:39
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    @gowenfawr The point is that if someone feels the rose in the garbage heap is part of the garbage, they are allowed. – JMac Dec 13 '18 at 23:46
  • @TylerH: That's a completely different situation from the one we're discussing here, and you'll notice that Shog specifically did not suggest that SE was going to invalidate those votes. In fact, the only change he suggested was... making automatic removal take longer so that people would use delete votes instead of downvotes. – Kevin Dec 14 '18 at 2:05
  • @Kevin No, it's not. From Rand's answer: "The second answer provides a more technical explanation for why to downvote such answers: because it might help the question to be auto-deleted sooner." This is exactly what Shog's post says is wrong. He goes on to talk about how it's nigh impossible to implement a system check against it, but that doesn't invalidate him saying it's wrong. – TylerH Dec 14 '18 at 14:11

Vote up anything you want to see more of. Vote down anything you want to see less of.

The purpose of voting* is content curation. Voting something up makes it more visible, while voting something down makes it less visible. This is true of both questions (which rise and fall on the hot tab, and highly upvoted questions get free advertising on HNQ and elsewhere) and answers (which rise and fall on the question page, and heavily downvoted answers get grayed out).

The only rule about voting is that you can't deliberately cast a lot of votes for the same person. In all other respects, Stack Exchange has consistently refused to apply a "voting policy" of any kind. You could, if you were so inclined, vote up questions with even word count and vote down questions with odd word count. This is probably not a Good Idea, but it wouldn't be "against the rules," because there are no rules.

People have written up detailed rationales for how they choose to vote, but for me, it's a very simple process:

  • If I want to see more content like this, I vote up.
  • If I want to see less content like this, I vote down.

Personally, I think this particular question is not a great example because it's been reopened. So I'm going to use a different example, which I've seen on this site several times (but usually it gets deleted very quickly, so I don't have a link). The asker will copy and paste a homework prompt into the question field, such as the following:

Describe the significance of love in the Harry Potter books.

Usually, this gets closed and deleted too quickly for anyone to answer it. But, if someone did write an answer to this question, I might well downvote, because I don't want to see people doing a student's homework for them. It's academically dishonest.

Besides, the answers to these questions are often uninteresting in their own right. I don't need someone to explain to me in painstaking detail that love is the central theme of the entire heptalogy. I already knew that, and I would think it would be quite obvious to most people who've read a Harry Potter book or two. There's no need to explain it, unless you're going to use that central theme as a stepping stone to some other literary analysis. In order to do that, you'll need to find and answer (or ask) a better question.

* Throughout this post, when I say "voting," I mean voting on the main site. Voting on meta follows a different set of norms that are not the subject of this discussion.


Perhaps it depends on whether the answerer agrees that the question should be closed.

I have often disagreed with the closeworthiness of various questions. Sometimes I even have a potential answer to some of those questions. I don't think there is anything wrong with posting answers to those questions. Users are entitled to their opinion on a question's closeworthiness, and I don't think they should get penalized for having a divergent opinion.

If, however, the answerer agrees that the question should be closed, then perhaps the answer should be downvoted. After all, if you think the question should be closed, why are you posting an answer? That subverts the system, and perhaps encourages future questions of a similar nature.

(One could perhaps argue that people might post answers to closeworthy questions because they think that it will take a while for the questions to get closed. Since anyone else might come along and post the answer in the meantime, they might feel that it may as well be them. I have indeed participated on other sites where such a concern would be very real. However, my impression is that here most close issues are taken care of fairly quickly (e.g. this recent question was closed by five voters in eight minutes), so it is much less likely that answers will slip in because it is taking too long to close the question.)

But how do we know what an answerer's opinion is? One way is to check the votes. If an answerer has cast a close vote then we can assume that he thinks the question should be closed; if he has cast a leave open or reopen vote then we can assume that he thinks the question should not be closed.

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    I tend to avoid downvoting answers on questionably off-topic questions. That being said, it's not down to you (or anyone else) to decide how I use my downvotes. – Valorum Dec 13 '18 at 17:10
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    @Valorum Sure, no one can demand or force you to use votes in a particular way, but we can make recommendations. – Alex Dec 13 '18 at 17:12
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    @Valorum The question is whether or not it's reasonable to downvote, not whether or not you should be allowed. – user31178 Dec 13 '18 at 18:35
  • I don't see this as a reasonable method. It's the users casting the votes who are free to use those votes how they see fit based on the content of what they are voting for. The opinion of the person answering the question shouldn't really be relevant to if the voter feels the content is good for the site. Since the vote is based on the opinion of the voter; they should also be basing the votes on what they think is off topic. – JMac Dec 13 '18 at 19:12
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    To counter your last paragraph, it's possible that someone thinks a question should be closed but votes to leave open because they want more attention for their own answer on it. Conflict of interest and all that. – Rand al'Thor Dec 13 '18 at 19:16
  • @Randal'Thor True, the system is not foolproof. My point is less about actually divining their intentions than about seeing if there is a contradiction between their voting and posting. – Alex Dec 13 '18 at 19:23
  • @JMac If you feel that a good answer to a questionable question is considered bad content then go ahead and downvote it. But my point is that you shouldn’t consider it bad content, because it’s part of ensuring a democratic platform. It’s the system working the way it should be working. – Alex Dec 13 '18 at 20:43
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    @Alex If the system worked the way it was supposed to, bad questions wouldn't get answered at all. This is the justification for downvotes. Since downvotes are based on the opinion of the voter, it makes no sense to try to mix in the opinion of the answerer. It's a far muddier approach than just never downovting such answers, or always downvoting them. – JMac Dec 13 '18 at 21:06
  • @JMac I agree that the system doesn't always work the way it is supposed to. – Alex Dec 13 '18 at 21:33

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