I was going to post this on Meta Stackoverflow, until a quick search revealed several other discussions on the topic.

However, since those are old posts with old views I was curious of how the community of g.se feels about it.

Basically, what appears to be sympathy upvotes is on questions or answers that start at "-1" or "-2". Within a couple minutes the question or answer seems to be back to "0", but never higher than zero. According to the up/down vote history, it then seems like there is a war between downvoting and upvoting the question or answer, where each downvote is matched with an upvote! All in the mean time, the user is gaining a bunch of reputation, because 5 downvotes = 1 upvote in terms of reputation adjustments.

My question is, are people upvoting negative score questions or answers because...

  • They feel the question or answer has merit, and the downvotes were not justified (but they would not have upvoted the question or answer if it was at 0)
  • They would have upvoted regardless of the current score, because their views conflict with the downvoter (either because they believe it is a good question, or that the answer is correct)
  • They only believe questions and answers should be downvoted because they are offensive or spam (basically, anything that a flag normally covers). Remember, downvotes are a good thing when used constructively.
  • 2
    Those all seem plausible, and different people probably do it for different reasons. I'm not clear on what the end result is that you want to discuss here... merely to understand why it happens, or to do something about it?
    – Sterno
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 18:37
  • @Sterno It is a discussion, so I am interested into which category the majority end up in. Or, if I am way off track and no one actually things sympathy upvoting exists here.
    – Resorath
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 18:38
  • 2
    It exists, it sucks, not sure what we can do about it. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 18:40
  • 5
    This question has my one and only sympathy upvote on the network. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 18:45
  • All I know is, my gut says maybe.
    – agent86
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 18:57
  • 2
    There's also the case of "question has been edited between downvotes and upvotes, and is now maybe no longer in need of downvotes". Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 20:02
  • 3
    I also consider upvotes of all posts on a game that a particular person likes as a form of sympathy upvoting, and I think that is a bigger issue than what you are describing.
    – l I
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 21:54
  • @yx. I didn't even know that existed, which is brutal.
    – Resorath
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 22:08
  • 3
    @yx That might be worthy of a separate discussion. I generally only upvote questions/answers on games I own, because otherwise I don't feel like I can really judge the quality of the question or its answers. But this does have the side effect that questions about popular games end up with more votes. I'm not sure whether that is a bad thing or not.
    – bwarner
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 22:22
  • @bwarner I'm not sure either I just brought it up since we were talking about sympathy upvotes
    – l I
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 22:25
  • @desaivv Would you care to provide examples?
    – bwarner
    Commented Feb 19, 2012 at 16:01

2 Answers 2


I wouldn't upvote a question just because it had a downvote and I felt bad for the user. But it is possible that I would read a question that I might otherwise skip because it is a downvoted question, and that reading it might lead to an upvote.

It may seem counter-intuitive to read a question because it is downvoted, but I do it because I might be able to help, either by editing the question, leaving a comment, or casting a close vote. And if I do this and decide that the question is good as is, I will upvote it. So in that case, a question that I wouldn't have read otherwise now gets an upvote, but it isn't out of sympathy as much as it is just wanting to upvote when I do find a good question.

  • 1
    That is understandable. Negative vote and closed questions probably garner more attention than a question with one or two upvotes. There's no news like bad news.
    – Resorath
    Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 22:41
  • I fall under this answer with the "no vote for you" ... no sense in adding any more than a comment.
    – Tharius
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 1:55
  • I fall under this category as well because I am able to vote for close/reopen. If a question starts to get a - I hop in to see if it should be further down voted, voted to close, or edited to make it into a better question. I am not doing it because I feel bad for the OP.
    – James
    Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 0:19

I don't believe that I cast sympathy upvotes. I may upvote a question or an answer that someone else has downvoted, and it certainly could look like a sympathy vote, but on those occasions, it's just coincidence. I do what I can to apply the same criteria every time I vote on the main site. In that case, I suspect your second bullet point would apply to me.

Like bwarner, a negative score might make me more likely to read a question or answer ... but it's because keeping the quality of the site up is important to me. If other people feel that content needs improvement, then I should probably take a look to see if I can a) help improve the content or b) help to bury it, whichever is more appropriate. (In those cases, I generally read the question as well as any answers, so that every user who contributed gets feedback if it's warranted.) So if anything, I might be an unsympathetic downvoter: if the content isn't redeemable (for example, it could be completely incorrect), then I will vote accordingly.

I also do what I can to track content I've downvoted, in case it is improved and my downvote is no longer valid (perhaps it should be replaced with an upvote, perhaps it's just neutral now). I do rely on SE to handle that for me, so in cases where there is already a comment explaining my reason for downvoting, I upvote the comment instead of adding a "me too" comment ... so if it does get improved, I might not notice.

I remember the days when downvoting questions cost rep. I wonder if we will eventually reach the point where downvoting answers is free; I suspect that there is still a significant percentage of the community that is able to cast downvotes and does not, and I also suspect that that is a source of frustration for SE folks and perhaps mods and community leaders as well. Votes should be a reflection of the content, not the contributor: to keep this a top-notch gaming Q&A site, we need to prune the bad content with the tools we have. One of those tools is downvoting, and I would encourage other users to use that tool where appropriate ... downvote, explain, and wait, and in time, some of that bad content will be improved, while other bad content will "disappear", or at least have less influence on the site as a whole.

  • Downvoting questions still does cost rep? Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 23:28
  • no, it does not. I didn't mean to imply that ... I was thinking about the cost of downvoting answers. Commented Feb 16, 2012 at 23:32

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