Many people think crypto is full of flinty libertarians and Shiba-chasing degens. But anyone who’s hung around crypto for a while knows that the community is pretty diverse – both politically and economically. There are builders, gig workers, leftists, meme-lords, grannies and everything in between. In this post, we’ll finally put some numbers on that diversity.
Joshua Tan, Lucia Korpas, and Ann Brody are researchers at Metagov, a governance research collective.
In what follows, we present initial takeaways from the Cryptopolitical Typology Quiz, an 18-question online survey we launched at LisCon 2021 that studies the political-economic inclinations of the crypto community. The survey features 10 factions and four classes (full descriptions here) as well as a set of Cryptopolitics non-fungible tokens.
Note: This post presents preliminary data from the Cryptopolitical Typology Quiz. If you haven’t done so already, we highly recommend taking the quiz, and if you enjoy it, sharing it on Twitter. If you’d prefer to skip the takeaways and see the data for yourself, you can see a live summary of the results from the survey in this Typeform report. The final results from the survey will be published later in 2022.
Introducing the factions
The first thing you might notice about the quiz are the factions.
The top line of factions (crypto-leftist, DAOist, true neutral, crypto-libertarian, crypto-ancap) captures the spectrum of political beliefs in crypto; these factions are calculated from a set of questions based on Pew Research Center’s long-running Political Typology Quiz.
The bottom line (earner, cryptopunk, NPC, techtrepreneur, degen) represents the primary mode of economic engagement with crypto.
Finally, there are four “classes” (Szabian, Gavinist, Zamfirist and Walchian) not shown that capture people’s beliefs about governance and government regulation. (That is, after Nick Szabo, Gavin Wood, Vlad Zamfir and Angela Walch.)
We crowdsourced these initial factions from a wide range of people (a few that didn’t make the cut: crypto-ancoms, cypherpunks, crypto-feudalists). You can find full descriptions of the factions here. Based on their responses to the survey, each respondent was assigned a political faction, an economic faction and a governance class.
Takeaway 1: Crypto is full of libertarians, but very few are “conservative”
Crypto is commonly associated with right-libertarian politics, and the majority of survey respondents have indeed been libertarian or the more radical anarcho-capitalist in their political faction. However, it is also important to remember that there is incredible political diversity within crypto communities: Some developers are pro-capitalist libertarians, while others are anti-capitalist anarchists and socialist.
Despite the preponderance of crypto-libertarians and crypto-ancaps, only 5.9% of respondents identified as conservative or right wing, while 51.6% identified as liberal or left wing, and 42.6% identified as neither. One explanation for this is that many libertarian respondents may associate the word “conservative” with social conservatism, whereas crypto-libertarianism emphasizes a form of economic libertarianism. In future versions of the survey, we would like to compare responses across geographic regions, since the meanings of “conservative” and “liberal” vary significantly by region (e.g. Europe vs. United States).
Takeaway 2: On-chain governance is more popular than off-chain governance, but not by much
Governance is a contentious issue both within and between blockchains, and especially where it involves existing regulatory or legal authorities. Respondents’ opinions are especially split on whether they favor on-chain over off-chain governance: While over half of respondents were on the Gavinist or Szabian “on-chain” side of the scale, nearly 40% fell on the other side. The more extreme positions (Szabians, eschewing off-chain politics altogether and Walchians, firm on the need for government regulation) account for nearly a third of respondents.
One surprising result: In question 16, only a very tiny percentage of people in crypto today (3.2%) seem to agree with Satoshi Nakomoto’s original vision of a protocol largely governed by a set of core developers and technical staff (which is still, in many ways, an accurate description of how changes and improvements are rolled out on both Bitcoin and Ethereum). That’s less than the percentage of people (3.4%) who think that a traditional government should govern the blockchain!
Takeaway 3: Builders are way over-represented
On the economic side, the label of techtrepeneur – someone interested in building or contributing to economic applications of crypto – describes over two-thirds of respondents. While it is great to see so many builders in crypto, we believe this indicates that the survey has not (yet!) reached a representative sample of the overall crypto community.
After all, a vanishing 2% of respondents were degens – YOLO profit-maximalists who just want crypto to go high. Even when we dig into the questions that detect for degeneracy, we see only 7.2% responding with “My goal in crypto is to make as much money as possible” (Q4), 3.5% responding with “In order to grow, the crypto ecosystem should: Provide financial instruments for maximum wealth creation” (Q9) and 8.5% responding with “I’m here for: the airdrops” (Q17). To count as a degen, you had to choose at least two out of the three answers above.
Where are you, you lovable degens?
Takeaway 4: There are no categories in crypto … yet
We built the initial set of factions by hand, but we were curious whether other factions and features might arise naturally from the data. So we hit the data using a bunch of clustering methods (e.g. affinity propagation, agglomerative clustering) and feature selection methods (e.g. PCA, feature agglomeration). It turns out that if you ask n people in crypto about their opinions on crypto, you’ll get (nearly) n unique responses… at least when n = 500. While that doesn’t preclude clusters of opinion from forming, it may factor into why the clustering results are currently inconclusive. You can check our work here.
Honestly, this result was surprising to us – is there really no consolidation of political opinions in crypto? For now, we’re hoping that more data will help us identify distinct schools of thought in the community. (So if you haven’t already, please take the quiz or share it with your community!) We’re also curious if other data scientists can draw different conclusions from the data, perhaps by combining it with other data sets. If you think of something, reach out!
Takeaway 5: Most people believe crypto is a political philosophy and other tidbits
Below are some additional observations from the survey. Check out the live summary on Typeform to see if these observations hold true as more people complete the survey.
- What does crypto mean to you? A small majority (56.6%) of respondents consider crypto to be mainly a political philosophy/lifestyle, rather than mainly an economic technology (Q3). This surprised us, especially when compared with the proportion of builders (versus users, artists, memers, etc.) represented in the survey!
- Bitcoin versus Ethereum: respondents were given the opportunity to affiliate with a number of layer 1 protocols. We compared the responses for the two largest groupings, Ethereum and Bitcoin, and found that (1) they agree on most things, (2) the question they most disagreed on was on gender: Fewer Bitcoiners than Ethereans believe that crypto has a gender problem (Q15). Bitcoiners were also somewhat more likely to be skeptical of regulation (Q7) and, correspondingly, less likely to be interested in cooperating with regulatory efforts or concerned with legal compliance (Q14).
- Is crypto-economics fair? Respondents are polarized on the question of whether crypto teams make a fair and reasonable amount of profit or too much profit (Q11), and similarly, whether the economic system in crypto is generally fair to most of its participants or unfairly favors powerful interests (Q12).
- How might crypto evolve? The majority sentiment is that to grow, crypto should build useful technology that solves real problems for a set of users (Q9).
Accessing the data
We need more degens! In short:
- We’re looking for more data, especially from the Bitcoin community
- We’re looking for partners: Do you have a group of people that would benefit from taking the survey together? We would love to support comparisons like Solana vs Gitcoin, Uniswap vs. SushiSwap, etc.
We initially built this quiz in order to educate the crypto community and to help it understand itself. We also think that this data will have an impact on regulatory discussions, and we would love to work with organizations already in this space to tailor future versions of the survey for that purpose.
Speaking of future versions, we’d love to run a second iteration of the survey in 2022 with a more rigorous sampling strategy and a bank of demographic questions. That would give us a much better sense of who is involved in crypto, as well as historical data on crypto’s political economy. Sampling this way can get expensive, though, so we’d love to partner with other projects in this space (shill, shill). Not only would you be supporting a public good in the ecosystem, the survey could also double as community research for your project (e.g. comparing the cultures of Solana vs. Ethereum, or of Uniswap vs. SushiSwap).
We would like to thank Michael Zargham, Seth Frey, Lane Rettig, Ellie Rennie, Kelsie Nabben, Scott Moore and Ivan Fartunov for their helpful comments in the development of this project. We would especially like to thank Joe Hirsch, who produced the illustrations for the Cryptopolitics NFTs. The Cryptopolitical Typology Quiz is a project of the Metagovernance Project, with ethics approval from the University of Oxford.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups. As part of their compensation, certain CoinDesk employees, including editorial employees, may receive exposure to DCG equity in the form of stock appreciation rights, which vest over a multi-year period. CoinDesk journalists are not allowed to purchase stock outright in DCG.