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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Who to Trust on Crypto Adoption?

In Coinbase’s ‘America Loves Crypto’ marketing campaign, the exchange claims that 52 million Americans, or 20 percent of the country’s population, own crypto. However, the Federal Reserve puts the figure at around 10%. So which (if any) is true?

We all want to see crypto adoption become truly mainstream, but in Coinbase’s latest marketing campaign, the exchange claims a full 20% of Americans own cryptocurrency, whereas the latest figures from the U.S. Federal Reserve put the number at just 10%. So is the Coinbase figure pure hopium? Or could there be another reason for such a massive discrepancy?

“People can come up with statistics to prove anything Kent. Forfty percent of all people know that.” - Homer Simpson

When you first see Coinbase’s ‘America Loves Crypto’ campaign, it is hard to miss the lead statement splashed proud across the title screen: “52 million Americans own crypto,” it claims. This represents 20% of the roughly 260 million people who make up the United States adult population. The figures are reportedly taken from a July 2023 Cryptocurrency Adoption and Perspectives Tracker published by Morning Consult, a business intelligence company.

But is this lead statement actually somewhat leading? Financial writer, John Paul Koning, thought so and decided to post a deeper investigation on his blog.

The main angle of the Coinbase campaign is to identify crypto users as a voting cohort worth courting by politicians. Thus it highlights ‘fun’ facts such as there being more crypto owners than the total NFL attendance last season (33 million), or than use a ride-sharing service every month (40 million).

It also points out that regulatory and legislative uncertainty is putting 4 million potential American jobs at risk by 2030. All of these ‘facts’ are cited from surveys and trusted references (although to be fair we can’t make the NFL data add up).

Koning initially looks at the crypto adoption figures given by alternative surveys of the American public. The first two examined are surveys by the Federal Reserve, which are both from 2022 and roughly agree on a figure of ten percent of the American public (or 26 million adults). While this does represent a significant increase on the 0.6% figure it polled back in 2015, it is unlikely that the figures will jump to the 20% claimed by Coinbase in the 2023 figures.

However, given the U.S. financial system’s open disdain for all things crypto, we can think of several reasons why users may be a little coy about their crypto holdings, or even avoid taking part in the Fed’s survey altogether.

Perhaps more useful is the next example, carried out by Neilsen on a significantly larger sample size (15,000 to 20,000 respondents) than either the Coinbase or Fed surveys (around 4,500 respondents each). The Neilsen survey gives a figure of 12% of American households owning crypto in 2022, but interestingly shows that the figure rises to almost 15% when considering those with a financial wealth of greater than one month’s household income.

There is a possibility that a combination of factors could lead to Coinbase’s greater estimate. These include the likelihood that crypto-owning households may include more than one holder of cryptocurrency, and that the smaller sample size of the Morning Consult survey may have been skewed by including more people with a greater financial wealth.

Of course, this is all just speculation, as even a sample size of 25,000 will have a margin of error when scaled to account for 260 million people. However, we can comfortably say that the true figure likely lies somewhere between the 10% and 20% figures at the bottom and top end of those polled.

Even accepting the lowest estimate, this still gives 26 million people who hold crypto, which by any measure is a significant voting cohort and well worth consideration by politicians. Perhaps this is why lawmakers are finally coming down hard on regulators and demanding a more coherent strategy around cryptocurrency and the industry in general.