While cryptocurrency’s reach has expanded over the past decade, its recent volatility has left many Americans questioning whether it’s a worthwhile investment. A recent YouGov poll finds that far more Americans view it as a bad rather than a good investment. Though few are concerned about cryptocurrency’s potential environmental impact, many support greater regulation and believe it's being used for illegal purposes such as money laundering. In terms of cryptocurrency’s acceptance into the mainstream, we find little change in Americans’ outlook over the past five years. While nearly one in three believe it will be at least somewhat widely accepted over the next decade, far fewer see it as an alternative to cash, or believe the U.S. should develop a national cryptocurrency.
Awareness and personal experiences
Most Americans (80%) have some awareness of cryptocurrency, though only one in five (21%) say they’ve heard a lot about it. Men are more likely than women are to say they’ve heard a lot about cryptocurrency, and Americans under 45 are more likely to say they’re very familiar with it than older people are. Three-fourths of Americans who’ve heard about cryptocurrency say they’ve also heard about its recent crash.
One in five Americans (21%) say they’ve owned cryptocurrency at some point, including 12% who say they currently own it and 9% who say they previously owned it but no longer do. Most people who have owned cryptocurrency say they most recently acquired it by purchasing it (65%), while 21% say they were paid in it and 24% say they were given it.
Why do Americans purchase cryptocurrency? Half of people who say they’ve purchased cryptocurrency (52%) say the primary reason for their most recent purchase was to use it as an investment, while 26% say they bought it for fun or out of curiosity and 18% say they bought it to use for purchases.
Americans are divided about cryptocurrency’s potential for broader societal acceptance. A roughly equal share say it will become somewhat or very widely accepted (31%) within the next 10 years as say it will not be very or at all widely accepted (30%). When we asked a similar question in 2017, Americans expressed a similar outlook on cryptocurrency’s future: 35% thought it would be at least somewhat accepted and 28% did not think it would.
Only about one in 10 Americans (11%) believe that cryptocurrency will eventually replace cash in the U.S. The same share – 11% – say the country should create a national cryptocurrency.
A worthwhile investment?
Is cryptocurrency perceived as a good investment? Few (13%) believe it's a very or somewhat good investment, while far more (41%) say it's a bad investment. Despite many crypto companies’ recent troubles, people who currently own cryptocurrency remain generally optimistic about it as an investment: Nearly half (47%) say it’s a good investment, while 20% say it’s a bad investment, and 29% say it’s neither good nor bad. (This excludes people who used to own crypto but have sold it, and might have more negative views of its investment potential.) People who’ve never owned cryptocurrency are far less positive: Only 6% say it’s a good investment while 44% say it’s a bad investment.
In recent months, the government has cracked down on a number of cryptocurrency scams, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reporting that Americans have lost more than $1 billion to them since 2021, far more than in previous years. When asked whether most crypto companies are legitimate businesses or scams, about as many Americans say that most are scams (20%) as say they’re mostly legitimate (16%). One in four (25%) believe it’s about evenly split: half are legitimate, half are scams.
Are Americans concerned about the potential environmental impacts of cryptocurrency? Not particularly. Only 18% of Americans believe cryptocurrency is bad for the environment, while 9% say it's good for it, and 30% say it’s neither good nor bad. People who own cryptocurrency are more likely to have an opinion on the subject, and those who do are nearly evenly split between viewing its effects on the environment as positive (27%) and negative (24%).
One common concern regarding cryptocurrency is its potential to aid unlawful activities, including making illegal purchases on the dark web and money-laundering. When asked about this possibility in our latest survey, Americans were divided: 18% say cryptocurrency is mostly used for illegal purchases, while 15% say it's mostly used for legal purchases. Others are not sure or are split, with 22% saying it’s used for legal purchases half the time and illegal purchases the other half. When we last asked a similar question in 2017, Americans reported similar opinions, though slightly more said then that cryptocurrency is mostly used for illegal purposes than say so today.
By 43% to 4%, Americans believe cryptocurrency makes it easier rather than harder for criminals to launder money; 13% say it makes it neither easier nor harder.
About one-third of Americans (36%) believe cryptocurrency should be subject to more government regulation, while fewer say it should be less regulated (8%) or say there should be no change in regulation (14%). People who currently own cryptocurrency are less supportive of regulation than are Americans overall: 29% want more regulation, 20% want less, and 38% want no change.
Despite a desire for greater regulation, more Americans believe cryptocurrency should be legal in most or all cases (32%) than say it should be illegal in most or all cases (16%).
— Carl Bialik contributed to this article
This poll was conducted on July 18 - 21, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Kanchanara on Unsplash