As the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried began, YouGov asked Americans for their thoughts on the trial, as well as their experiences with cryptocurrency and effective altruism, a philosophy that Bankman-Fried says he follows. The survey finds that Americans are cooling somewhat on cryptocurrency, with slightly fewer people owning it now than did in November 2022.
Bankman-Fried is the founder of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that collapsed last year. He has been accused of fraud, with the prosecution alleging that he “misappropriated and embezzled” FTX customers’ deposits and used “billions in stolen funds” for personal purchases and risky investments.
About half of Americans have heard about the fraud trial of Bankman-Fried, including 12% who say they’ve heard a lot and 40% who have heard a little.
Nearly half (46%) of Americans think Bankman-Fried should be convicted of a crime. Among people who had heard about the trial, 73% think that he should be convicted.
But fewer think he will be convicted. One-third of Americans, including 50% of those who have heard about the trial, think he will be convicted.
YouGov’s survey also asked Americans about their personal experiences with cryptocurrency and their assessment of cryptocurrency companies.
Most Americans have heard at least a little about cryptocurrency, including 25% who say they’ve heard a lot about it and 60% who have heard a little. Men (34%) are about twice as likely as women (17%) to say they’ve heard a lot about it.
Though most Americans have heard of cryptocurrency, relatively few (14%) currently own cryptocurrency. One in 10 say they used to, but no longer own it. Men (18%) are more likely than women (10%) to own cryptocurrency.
People between 30 and 44 years old (23%) are more likely than adults under 30 (19%) or 45 and older (8%) to own cryptocurrency.
The share of men who own cryptocurrency has fallen by 6 percentage points since last November, when YouGov polling found that 24% of men — and 11% of women — owned cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency ownership also has fallen among younger adults. The share of 30- to 44-year-olds owning cryptocurrency has fallen 12 percentage points since last November, when 35% owned cryptocurrency. Among adults under 30, 25% owned cryptocurrency last November, a figure that has fallen by 6 percentage points in the year since.
While other factors likely are involved in the decline of cryptocurrency ownership — and the level of ownership was lower in July 2022 than in November 2022 — the decline has coincided with the collapse of FTX. During that time, the share of Americans who believe almost all or most cryptocurrency companies are a “scam” has increased. Among U.S. adult citizens, 15% think almost all cryptocurrency companies are scams and 19% believe that most are scams. One-quarter say half are legitimate and half are scams. Fewer believe that most (12%) or all (2%) cryptocurrency companies are legitimate.
Last July, Americans were divided on the legitimacy of cryptocurrency companies: 21% said they thought almost all or most cryptocurrency companies were legitimate and 25% thought almost all or most were scams. By November 2022, 18% of Americans said they thought almost all or most were legitimate and 29% thought almost all or most were scams. Those figures now are 14% and 34%.
The conversation around Bankman-Fried frequently includes reference to effective altruism, a philosophy that he espouses. About one in five (22%) Americans are familiar with effective altruism, while 61% are not and 17% are unsure. Familiarity is higher among people whose highest level of education is a postgraduate degree (30% are familiar with the philosophy) and people whose highest level of education is a college degree (33%).
Effective altruism is a philosophy that advocates using evidence and reasoning to try to do the most good possible with a given amount of resources. Based on that definition, most Americans approve of effective altruism, including 25% who say they strongly approve and 42% who say they somewhat approve. Among people who have previously heard of effective altruism, 42% strongly approve of it and 39% somewhat approve of it.
The Bankman-Fried trial also has caused some people to evaluate how they view billionaires. YouGov’s survey asked respondents about whether they believe billionaires are more or less likely than other people to do a number of things, such as pay the amount they owe in taxes or receive lenient treatment if they commit a crime.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to attribute positive traits to billionaires. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say billionaires are more likely than other Americans to be creative (36% vs. 22%), to be hardworking (34% vs. 22%) and to be generous (24% vs. 15%). Democrats (39%) are more likely than Independents (29%) and Republicans (20%) to say billionaires are more likely to commit crimes.
Most Americans (58%), including 68% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans, believe billionaires are less likely than most Americans to pay the amount they owe in taxes.
Since the question was last asked in November 2022, the shares of Americans who think billionaires are more likely to do the following has increased: have political influence (76%, up from 66%) and receive lenient treatment if they commit a crime (65%, up from 57%). Fewer now think of billionaires as being more likely to be creative: 27%, down from 33%.
Opinions of one particular billionaire also have gotten worse since last year. Just 13% of Americans have a very or somewhat unfavorable view of Bankman-Fried while 37% have a favorable view. In November 2022, those figures were 16% favorable and 26% unfavorable.
— Taylor Orth and Carl Bialik contributed to this article
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Methodology: The YouGov poll was conducted online on October 4 - 10, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.
Image: Getty (Michael M. Santiago)