The latest Reason-Rupe poll is one of the first polls to ask Americans about Bitcoin, the new online digital currency. Only 8 percent of Americans said they knew "a lot" about it, 11 percent said "some," 24 percent said "a little," and a majority (56 percent) said "nothing at all."
The poll then described Bitcoin to respondents as "a new online digital currency that is not connected to any particular country's currency system and is not controlled by any government." Then, even despite the high number who knows nothing about Bitcoin, a plurality (47 percent) said government should not allow people to use Bitcoins to purchase goods and services, while 38 percent said it should be allowed and another 14 percent don't know.
The poll found that the people who know the least about Bitcoin want to ban in the most. However, among those who know a fair amount about Bitcoin, they favored allowing it by a margin of 62 to 34 percent. Among those who know nothing at all, they want to ban it 54 to 27 percent.
Support for Bitcoin increases with education and income, and declines with age. Americans making more than $110,000 a year support allowing Bitcoin by a margin of 55 to 39 percent. Conversely, households making less than $75,000 a year tend to oppose with only 36 percent in favor and 49 percent who think Bitcoin should be prohibited. Roughly half of those who have not attended college are weary of Bitcoin, but a plurality of college graduates think it should be allowed. As described below, millennials are considerably more supportive of Bitcoin. Men (43 percent) are slightly more likely than women (34 percent) to favor allowing Bitcoin. Racial groups are equally likely to lean toward prohibiting Bitcoin.
Bitcoin's Ideological Experiment
Bitcoin offers a unique opportunity—a type of experiment—to examine how people react to things with which they are unfamiliar. Some individuals have a natural predisposition to ban things they don't understand while others naturally lean toward individual autonomy unless someone convinces them that someone else will be harmed. The question of Bitcoin provides a useful tool to delineate between those who opt for control or choice.
So what types of individuals are most likely to favor choice or control? Millennials, tech-savvy gamers, political independents, and libertarians.
Among young people 18-24, 59 percent say Bitcoin should be allowed, this drops to 46 percent among 35-44 year olds and then further to 22 percent among seniors 65 and older. This is part of a larger trend we're observing with this generation: socially liberal with undecided economic views, but cares deeply about personalization and individual autonomy.
Arguably, individuals who play video games frequently are also necessarily more tech-savvy. Reason-Rupe finds that tech savvy gamers also support allowing Bitcoin 55 to 35 percent. In contrast, Americans who never play video games, say government should prohibit Bitcoin 51 percent to 30 percent. Like millennials, gamers also exhibit a tendency toward personal choice on issues beyond Bitcoin.
Unlike partisans, roughly half of political independents and independents who lean Republican favor allowing Bitcoin, while 35 percent want it banned. In contrast, a majority (57 percent) of Democrats want it prohibited, as do 52 percent of Republicans. While sample sizes are too small to draw firm conclusions, it's intuitive that 66 percent of self identified libertarians want to allow Bitcoin while only 17 percent think it should be prohibited. Self-identified conservatives were the most likely to want to ban it by a margin of 53 to 33 percent.
Examining underlying beliefs about the role and power of government, Reason-Rupe finds that a majority (53 percent) of Americans who think government should promote traditional values are unfavorable toward Bitcoin, compared to 32 percent who favor it. But not only social conservatives want government to control Bitcoin, so do Americans who prefer a strong government and who say there is more government should be doing (both 50 percent opposed).
In fact, asking questions about the appropriate scope and power of government allows us to group Americans according to beliefs on economic and social issues respectively creating four groups: those who lean libertarian, conservative, liberal, and communitarian (socially conservative but fiscally liberal). Each group comprises about a fifth of the population respectively, with the remainder in the ideological center.
Among the political groups, only the group defined as libertarian reaches a majority (52 percent) in support of Bitcoin; liberals follow closely with 48 percent, then 37 percent of conservatives, and 24 percent of communitarians. These results confirm intuition: the more libertarian a person, the more predisposed they are to allow personal choice.
Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 26-30 2014 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.6%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results, detailed tables, and methodology found here. Sign up for notifications of new releases of the Reason-Rupe poll here.