According to a study conducted by Coin Center using Google Consumer Surveys, around 65 % of Americans have no idea what Bitcoin is. Of the respondents who said they knew what Bitcoin was, more than 80 % said they have never used it.
The poll was weighted to simulate the general American population. People who answer surveys online aren't a perfect match with the demographics of the general population and how each vote is counted was weighed accordingly. Our analysis of the raw data does not take that weighing into account.
The news can be seen as either good or bad, depending on how optimistic of a person you are. On one hand, it shows that Bitcoin has a long way to go in education and publicity. The silver lining to that is that it means Bitcoin, and its price, still have a lot of room for growth.
For the Bitcoin faithful, people like us, who live inside Bitcoin's ecosystem, it can be easy to forget how new the currency is. While we see a potential society changing technology, most people are still relatively happy with their fiat currency and aren't looking around for new options.
There are a few other troubling statistics in the survey. When asked to state how often Bitcoin is being used for criminal activity versus legitimate activity on a scale of 1 – 10, with 1 being “Mostly crime, fraud, extortion” and 10 being “Mostly legal transfers, investments” the median answer was 3.5.
Respondents were also asked if they thought Bitcoin was useful and if they thought it was trustworthy. The results of the two questions were graphed using circles of various sizes comparing how often each combination of answers popped up. “Slightly Useful” and “Neutral” trust was the most common combination of answers, with “Not at all useful” and “Strongly Distrust” coming in second.
We did our own analysis of the raw data provided by Coin Center and figured out some interesting numbers. Of respondents who say they have never used Bitcoin, 2,273 respondents stated they either “distrust” or “strongly distrust” Bitcoin, compared to 2,077 “Neutral” responses (359 responded that they either “trust” or “strongly trust” bitcoin without having used it). That breaks down to 49.2 % of respondents who have not used Bitcoin already don't trust it, while 44.1 % are neutral and only 7.6 % trust it before using it.
What this shows, is that what little Bitcoin has penetrated into the mainstream consciousness, has not been positive. While it is understandable that people would be cautious with new stores of value, the number of stories about exchange failings, hacks and outright scams seem to be having a more powerful effect on the public's consciousness than the positive articles.
Clearly, public sentiment isn't exactly on Bitcoin's side. Events like the Bitcoin Bowl are steps in the right direction, as is more high profile merchants accepting it. It does seem, however, despite the oodles of press Bitcoin has received over the past year (some of it even positive), it has not managed to penetrate into the mainstream consciousness just yet.
The good news is that once people start using Bitcoin, they begin to trust it more. Of the users who replied that they have used Bitcoin in the past (either “Not too frequently” “Frequently” or “Very frequently”) the amount of distrust drops significantly, even among those who say they use it rarely or “Not too frequently[.]” Among those who responded that they use bitcoin “Not too frequently” only 16.7 % of them said they “distrust” or “strongly distrust” Bitcoin. That is compared to 34 % who say they “Trust” or “Strongly Trust” Bitcoin and 48.5 % who remain neutral.
When we look at the respondents who use bitcoin “Somewhat frequently” the distrust factor drops even more, with only 11.5 % of respondents saying they either “Distrust” or Strongly distrust” Bitcoin. An encouraging 52.1 % say they either “Trust” or “Strongly Trust” Bitcoin.
There are some surprising results when looking at those who say they use Bitcoin “Very frequently[.]” Rather than continuing the trend of lowering distrust levels, it appears that some users may become disillusioned after participating in the Bitcoin ecosystem.
It is important to note that the poll's sample size gets smaller as we focus on more Bitcoin knowledgeable respondents. Only 157 respondents said they use Bitcoin “Very frequently” which isn't enough for a true scientific results (Coin Center's study was never meant to focus on this particular niche) but the results are still interesting to take a look at.
While trust continued to grow, up to 65.6 % distrust also saw a jump over “Somewhat frequently” respondents. Twenty-three percent of respondents said they either “Distrust” or “Strongly distrust” Bitcoin, while 10.5 % remain neutral.
What this appears to show is that while using Bitcoin tends to lead to trust of the network, it sometimes also leads to distrust. This could be attributed to users hearing more about scams or even being scammed themselves, or – as mentioned – it could be a statistical anomaly due to the small sample size.
Coin Center's Executive Director, Jerry Brito gave his thoughts on how he feels adoption could be improved.
“I think awareness will follow utility. Startups and developers are building applications that will provide that utility in a way that is relevant to average consumers.”
Fiat still has the advantage of being taken virtually everywhere. Bitcoin can never win on that front by adding merchants, even big merchants, individually. Bitcoin needs to showcase its utilities, its true advantages over fiat, and that isn't adoption, at least not until people start buying products directly from China and bypass Wal-Mart. Bitcoin needs to showcase what it can do that fiat can't. There seem to be endless examples coming down the pipe, but we are still searching for that killer app that will force the masses to take notice.
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