As a very new member, I think I may have an unexpected perspective on this that you might really appreciate:
In short, we should absolutely step up our voting culture!
I may be new here, but personal investments sites like this (and Wikipedia) are nothing – quite literally – without each user recognizing their very critical role as a member of the quality control crew. So, for those who really get it, the duty will be threefold:
improve the quality of the site (down-votes will inevitably lead to some deletions);
define the culture of the site (down-votes will set the tone and, over time, discourage "questionable" answers); and,
establish the practice of the quality control crew (consistent, fair use of down-votes, accompanied by positive, encouraging, informative comments, from all of us, will show everyone how it's to be done and our lead will, hopefully, be followed).
But I digress. Here is the unexpected perspective of which I spoke:
- Down-vote as deterrent works.
On my first day here, I made the perfectly reasonable, very newbie mistake of thinking, "Hey, this thread is hot! Let me throw out a quick answer and try to get some quick up-votes." It, deservedly, received a down-vote instead.
I am competition-oriented, love sites with scoreboard type features, etc. Since I was paying attention to my points, the down-vote really stung ... kinda like getting slapped (hard) by the love of my life. Lesson learned! (I learned my lesson about hunting Rep by editing the same way.)
I hope this will remind us that we should be kind to users when we go about our task – leave a reason for the down-vote in the comments, some encouragement, etc.
- Friendly comment alone as deterrent – much less likely to work.
In the above situation, if I'd gotten the friendly comment without a down-vote, it's possible I may have taken the advice to heart, maybe even tried to rewrite my answer, but I'm an editor and generally conscientious. I can't say for sure, but I think most people (especially if they posted their answer for no better reason than I did) would probably say to themselves, "well, that's one opinion; maybe someone else will up-vote it" and not change anything.
- Down-votes are not necessarily detrimental to one's Reputation (which is a good thing – for them and us).
It's good to consider the negative consequences, but if we handle it positively, there shouldn't be much to worry about. Getting a down-vote will never be taken as positive or particularly diplomatic, and it could discourage participation here and there, but (just as an example again) I took the rebuke well; I knew that my intentions in posting the answer were less than pure. More importantly, I knew that I had the choice to sidestep any lasting negative effects of the down-vote by simply deleting my answer, and that's what I did.
So, I suggest we pretend our down-votes are a semi-limited resource (so we don't pull the trigger every time someone answers a question differently than we would), and then just be supportive in the comments ("this is why, but it's great you're contributing!") when we do deliver a down-vote.