One annoying problem I've experienced in the past is the following: I downvote something that I think is bad but that is not obviously bad (e.g. it is not spam). Exactly one other user upvotes in response, but no more. What I strongly suspect is going on is that the user who upvotes is just canceling out my downvote and that, if there hadn't been a downvote, that user would not have upvoted. But the end result here is that

• The user who posted the thing I downvoted experiences a net gain in reputation, and
• A casual user only sees a vote total of 0 instead of the actual voting history, which is 1 downvote and 1 upvote, and this is very different.

This disincentivizes me from downvoting something that I think is bad but that is not obviously bad, which I think is suboptimal.

The basic problem here is that vote totals are misleading on a question which has both upvotes and downvotes. 0 votes is very different from 3 upvotes and 3 downvotes, which is in turn very different from 10 upvotes and 10 downvotes. For that reason, I would strongly prefer if upvotes and downvotes were always both displayed (e.g. on the main page).

• – cardinal Sep 12 '12 at 1:00
• So, when we do a feature request, does anything ever come of it? I think you make a great request. – GeoffDS Sep 12 '12 at 1:09
• @Graphth: Does anything ever come of it? Yes, eventually it will be tagged status-declined. ;-) (+1 to this request, by the way.) – cardinal Sep 12 '12 at 1:22
• This is a strange case where $0 \neq x - x$ :) – user2468 Sep 12 '12 at 1:39
• But seriously, shouldn't you ask this question on meta.SO? – user2468 Sep 12 '12 at 1:39
• @Jennifer: the SE team has indicated in the past that they look at the site metas even for questions about the entire network. To my knowledge, this hasn't changed. – Qiaochu Yuan Sep 12 '12 at 1:45
• @cardinal In fact Qiaochu already posted a question here on pity upvoting. – Bill Dubuque Sep 12 '12 at 3:05
• @Bill: I had half-forgotten that I had asked that question. But last time I was trying to solve this problem as a social problem and now I am trying to solve it as a technological problem. – Qiaochu Yuan Sep 12 '12 at 3:10
• The term "pity upvoting" does not necessarily accurately describe motivations. – André Nicolas Sep 12 '12 at 6:16
• There is presumably a reason why the ability to view vote counts is granted at 1k; I however, am not privy to it. – Willie Wong Sep 12 '12 at 8:52
• I don't "pity upvote", but I have just realised (because I just did it, automatically, on the main site) that I "revenge downvote": If an answer is mediocre and should be ignored but for some reason has a +1, I'll downvote it. However, it is only mediocre not necessarily wrong and so it is not the kind of question that should have a negative score, so I would only downvote it if it had a plus score (so my -1 would go unnoticed). For this (perhaps badly explained) reason, I think I am against the separate displays. – user1729 Sep 12 '12 at 12:36
• @user1729 I do the same, for the reason that a question for which at least one answer has a positive total of upvotes is removed from Unanswered tab, and is no longer eligible to be bumped by Community user. So, if a question has a non-answer with +1, I'll downvote to restore the Unanswered status of the question. – user31373 Sep 12 '12 at 21:36

Almost two years later, it does not look like SE is going to do anything about this. Enabling this for everybody would be forcing too much information on users who don't want it. For example, Physics Overflow site has this display (they run Q2A software), and I am not wild about it. On the other hand, making the separate display a user preference would be against the SE tradition of "we generally don't do preferences".

So, I wrote a Smart up/down vote display script, which (sort of) fulfills the request:

Not every count is split: only those where there are downvotes. And even then, downvotes on posts with net score 5+ are not shown. The red numbers can be taken either as a sign to stay away from the question, or to jump in and take an action.

The script is distributed as a Chrome extension. The source code is available (JavaScript with no browser-specific API), so it's possible to adapt the script for other browsers.

Update: after using this extension for a while, I realized it is most useful for identifying new questions with at least one downvote, as this is the early sign of a question in trouble. And this is better done not by scanning the list looking for red numbers, but by generating a list of questions with at least one downvote.

Hence, a bookmarklet: New questions with a downvote. Nothing to install. Works SE-wide. Clicking it on any page of the site, you should see it replaced with a simple bullet list of new downvoted questions and their scores. The script looks at the newest $100$ questions, which at current rate means it goes about $5$ hours back in time. Closed questions are marked as such.

• As far as I'm concerned, both these things are superseded by Review+ extension, but I'm not bumping this anymore. – user147263 Sep 10 '14 at 5:14
• Why is this user account gone? – neverMind9 Apr 28 '18 at 23:38