I noticed and so did several others that vote counts seemed very low for the 2012 moderator elections. Here are some statistics.

Moderator Election for 2012

5,874 voters were eligible
2,198 visited the site during the election
652 visited the election page
297 voted

This seems like a depressingly low participation rate for our site and I'll admit that I was shocked when I saw the results. I was interested and decided to a small case study to see how we compared to other sites on the StackExchange network.

Just as a note - I am not a statistician and the numbers presented here are rather basic computations. However, I believe that they communicate an encouraging trend for our community.

I visited election pages for every other full, non-beta site on the network that held an election at some point in early to mid 2011. The following graph is a scatter plot for each of these sites of what I call Interested User Conversion (IUC) rate. This percentage is computed by:

Number of People Who Voted / Number of People Who Visited the Election Page.

StackExchange IUC Scatterplot 2011 interested user conversion

Where was Programmers.SE IUC in 2011?

Stackoverflow - 35.173%
Serverfault - 54.770%
Programmers.SE - 55.448%

StackExchange Overall - 63.483%

This means that in 2011, roughly 55% of people who were eligible to vote and visited our election page actually bothered to vote. That's actually a very strong percentage and not that surprising - people involved with the site in its earliest phases tend to be stronger supporters and more interested in things like elections.

How does this stack up to our 2012 elections? Only a handful of sites have completed elections so far, so I only have Stack Overflow and Server Fault to compare ourselves against.

Basic 2012 Comparisons
2012 runoff

We had 66% more eligible voters this election than in 2011, and we increased our number of votes by about 23%.

Compare this with Stack Overflow which added around 40% more eligible voters and only managed to increase their votes by .48%. That's right - Stack Overflow participation remained virtually static in spite of their increased voter base. Our own numbers are even stronger when looked at in this light:

Stack Overflow added 29,130 eligible voters but only had 24 additional people vote.

Serverfault added 2,516 eligible voters and had 102 FEWER people vote.

Programmers.SE added 3,944 eligible voters and had 68 additional people vote.

Now lets look at the IUC statistic I brought up with 2011 a little earlier.

Where was Programmers.SE IUC in 2012?

Stackoverflow - 27.953%
Serverfault - 43.882%
Programmers.SE - 45.552%

We had a decrease in the ratio of our participation - this is to be expected. We will always add more users than will participate in things like elections. However, our growth rate is very encouraging, especially compared to Stack Overflow and Serverfault.

  • For comparison, the concurrent election on SF&F had 713 eligible voters, 371 site visitors, 127 who loaded the election page, and 73 voters. That's slightly larger ratios, but nothing to write home about. – Gilles Feb 8 '12 at 0:08
  • 1
    @Jarrod Fantastic work. Did you collect all this data from SEDE – Ubermensch Feb 8 '12 at 15:01
  • @Ubermensch Nope. I just visited the election pages for each site. – Jarrod Nettles Feb 8 '12 at 16:18
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    I think the bigger question to be answered is why are less than half the people visiting the election page actually voting. – Ryathal Feb 8 '12 at 16:42
  • @Ryathal That interested me to, and is what that graph is based upon. It actually follows close to a normal distribution (bell curve) - with a range from 35% to 81% and a mean of 63%. In 2011 we were slightly below this mean at 55% - this dropped to 46% in 2012. Until I have more election data from other sites for 2012 I can't really comment on how we performed relative to other S.E. sites. – Jarrod Nettles Feb 8 '12 at 18:00

Analysing those numbers, without actually talking to non-voters is useless. You should create a survey or make few phone calls.

Here are few hypothesis that should be verified:

  • Non voters just don't care.
  • Non voters did not find any interesting candidate.
  • Non voters were disapointed how previous moderators converted their promises.
  • Non voters were unable to vote "technically".
  • Non voters were not aware that an election was currently running.

I personally think the first and last one are the most likely to occurs. After all, 297 voters is not so far to the number of "really" active users here isn't?

  • 2
    I suspect it's the first reason. I can't see users being unaware of the election as we had several system messages displayed throughout the election. – ChrisF Feb 8 '12 at 9:44
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    It would be extremely interesting to do a survey and post the results in our blog. But, I'm afraid that people who didn't care enough to vote won't care enough for the survey as well... – yannis Feb 8 '12 at 10:07
  • @Yannis Rizos: there are some statistical tools to take in consideration that. But the biggest problem is that StackExchange promised all their users that they won't contact them by email, ever. – user2567 Feb 8 '12 at 13:21
  • @Pierre303 What I had in mind was something like an online survey for Programmers only that we could setup ourselves, not a network wide official survey. – yannis Feb 8 '12 at 13:27
  • @YannisRizos: to get accurate number, we need to send out the survey to 100% of the members :( – user2567 Feb 8 '12 at 14:17
  • We will never get an accurate number anyways, even if we do send it to everyone, as not everyone will participate. But if we setup a survey and post a meta question or preferably a blog post, then we could get some people to participate. Or not, I was just brainstorming... – yannis Feb 8 '12 at 14:21
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    @Pierre303 As I said, it isn't the most scientific of statistics. But either you way, you can't deny that in we grew in voters, and that we actually performed better than Stack Overflow in terms of percentages. – Jarrod Nettles Feb 8 '12 at 14:34
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    @YannisRizos: there are statistical techniques that allows you to "adjust" the "non-respondant" factor. – user2567 Feb 9 '12 at 9:07

I am one of those non-voters; I didn't vote because I'm not really involved in the site (most of the time I lurk the Q&A) even though I have the reputation required to vote.

I read the election page, but I haven't heard before of any of the candidates, the only things I knew about them were what they wrote on their "cover letters"; should I have voted, basing my choice only on those words? I didn't feel like that, so I passed.

What am I trying to say is you should look a bit more at the behaviour of the users: are the ones who didn't vote regular users who actively engages in the site activities? Or are they much more like me, lurkers?

A reputation of 100 is really easy to get, you get a 100 reputation bonus by registering to the site through StackExchange, so you can be eligible to vote even if you never ever visited the site after the first time.

I think an in-depth analysis of who those non-voters (and voters) are could help you understand the trend.

  • 1
    the only things I knew about them were what they wrote on their "cover letters" Every candidate's Meta statistics were posted at the bottom. Their profiles were linked to on each post, which provides a history of their questions and answers. Profiles are also linked to other Stack Exchange sites. It's trivial to see what contributions an individual candidate has made to this site from the nomination page, and incredibly easy to see their contributions to other sites. – Thomas Owens Feb 9 '12 at 13:04
  • Everything I know and have learned about the people I voted for is tied up in the questions, answers, and chat scripts of this site - all of which is free to peruse. – Jarrod Nettles Feb 9 '12 at 17:55
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    You're both right, but you're forgetting something: we're lukers. Do you really think someone who browse the site once in a while will spend many hours sifting through every candidate question, answer and comment? It's simply not realistic. – Albireo Feb 13 '12 at 15:56

We had 66% more eligible voters this election than in 2011, and we increased our number of votes by about 23%.

Compare this with Stack Overflow which added around 40% more eligible voters and only managed to increase their votes by .48%. That's right - Stack Overflow participation remained virtually static in spite of their increased voter base.

This shouldn't surprise at all considering the average user of both sites. Eligible voters are based on a meager amount of repuation at the site. Consider the active userbase at Programmers, we are highly active, mostly self moderating, and IMHO a cut above your average software developer in that we tend to be more concerned with algorithms, software design, architecture, software project management ideologies, and higher order conceptual discussions.

We tend to heavily vote up good and interesting questions, and mercilessly downvote poorly thought out inappropriate questions. Considering that I can be a user for one week, and if I ask one good question and a good answer, I am already more than half the way there to becoming eligible from my participation in maybe a few questions or answers.

StackOverflow is a completely different animal. The barrier to entry is orders of magnitude greater. Even for very specific questions, they tend to get detailed answers extremely quickly so the unanswered questions either are hopelessly vague and should be closed, or inordinately difficult problems that require a lot of work to answer well. Now consider that the userbase is much larger and comprised of mostly people who have posted many questions and have provided 0 answers, questions with content like:

  • Plz teh codez

  • Urgently PLZZZZ!!!

  • I am trying to write a regular expression that will help me parse HTML

  • I need to do something extremely common and am allergic to Google searches

Now consider that this same mob never upvotes ... ANYTHING ... and they only accept answers when pressured to. Add on top of that a flood of simply awful questions that present no meaningful information, have no use to anybody else and do not demonstrate what was attempted. Because of this, those of us like myself who upvote GOOD questions when we can are greatly outnumbered.

The point I am ultimately trying to make is that it is much harder to get a high reputation on SO than on Programmers, and that considering the majority of SO users do not show even the slightest modicum of gratitude and appreciation to the selfless SO users who tirelessly work to solve their problems for them, well... I can't say it is surprising that so few of them bother to vote.

I voted on SF&F but not here or anywhere else - I guess the question is, why?

I guess you could call me a lurker here on Programmers - I mostly read a selection of questions on a daily basis, voting on questions and answers, but infrequently commenting or answering/asking questions myself. I guess I felt that I didn't even recognise the candidates - most of them were just names, with long cover letters, and some statistics. Reputation is a difficult metric - because it not only indicates quality in answers, but the time since registering and also prolificacy.

Over on SF&F, however, I felt I knew most of the candidates - I could easily recall their questions and answers and comments. Their statistics hardly came into it - their posts indicated their characters, and the cover letters were nice little manifestos, but it was their posts that swung my votes.

As for SO - I don't think I even bothered. I rarely look at questions that aren't tagged as PHP, and so don't interact with a large part of the community there.

If you want my suggestions for better voter interaction: shorten the cover letters, and post a couple of their best answers or provide links to their top five.

  • I rather disagree with that: I think I voted in every election I was eligible to. I don't base my votes on candidates' posts on the site; that might tell me whether they're good users, but it doesn't say whether they're good moderators. The stats on elections.stackexchange.com are vague metrics, but they're still more relevant than candidates' posts on the site. Nominations and replies in town hall chats also give me an idea of whether they may be good at moderating. Regarding on-site activity, it's mostly comments to new users and close votes (which I can't see) that I find important. – Gilles Feb 12 '12 at 13:06
  • I guess the point, rather, is that different people will judge on different things... The tone of an answer/question/comment goes a long way, in my book. I'm not saying throw out the cover letters, but reduce them so they are really not much more than a quick bullet list of what the candidate intends to do - when a cover letter is longer than my screen, that there is too much. – HorusKol Feb 12 '12 at 22:09
  • I have to agree that the length of the cover letters bothered me. I'd prefer it if candidates write a short paragraph at the top summarizing their moderation style and what they'd do as a moderator, and then they can expand on it in more detail below that for those that care to read it. – Rachel Mar 7 '12 at 20:33

I voted, but was close to not doing so... because it seems a bit pointless to elect a moderator who has to play by the rules anyway. It feels like electing a policeman or tax officer - since the scope for decision-making for a moderator is relatively small, I suspect it hardly makes a difference who actually wins.

  • I disagree - it is more akin to electing a judge, which in my most democracies happens all the time on municipal levels. Yes there are higher levels of judiciary authority above the elected official, but they are on the front lines making decisions and interpretations about how the rules should be followed. – Jarrod Nettles Feb 13 '12 at 16:35
  • +1: That's why I asked this question: meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/2917/… – Jim G. Feb 14 '12 at 2:38
  • Jarrod: You are electing judges? Doesn't happen here, and I don't know any European country where judges are elected. – user281377 Feb 14 '12 at 8:21
  • @ammoQ I suppose I should have researched that before making such a broad statement. My bad. It happens here in the United States, rather. – Jarrod Nettles Feb 14 '12 at 14:14
  • @ammoQ Some of the states allow for an electable magistrate that handles traffic offenses and minor misdemeanors but this is becoming rightfully less popular. The intent is that they don't become too chummy with the local police but its a problem that they are far too lenient on dealing out appropriate punishment to important people and campaign donors so that they continue to be elected. It too easily leads to corruption so the cons far outweigh the benefits. – maple_shaft Feb 15 '12 at 15:23

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