I don't know that the up and down voting is necessarily hierarchical, at least as far as I use that, it has more to do with content (or good faith) of the questions or answers I am voting on. I tend to downvote things that seem like they are trolling or offer blustery and unsupported arguments. When I upvote it is because I both agree with the answer and think it covers most of what I would have answered as well.
I am not in a position to speak to how someone new to this site interprets all this, I recall feeling intimidated when I started answering things here, but quickly found that my opinions were valued and appreciated (and challenged!) which is what one should expect from a site like this. It is true that there are certain people who I frequently upvote, but that has less to do with their being longtime participants, and more with the fact that (I suspect) we share some similar perspectives.
But (for example) just because I've upvoted dot at times, and dot has the most points, that doesn't make dot the anarcha-president or something. We still disagree about some things, and when we do, I'm pretty sure I'm right ;)