Originally published on July 27, 2018 in CoinDesk.
While some say crypto is apolitical, others argue a technology that takes direct aim at central bank-driven monetary policy can’t be anything otherwise.
Indeed, many early adopters were drawn to bitcoin’s revolutionary potential and there has long been a close association between libertarianism and cryptocurrency.
CoinDesk Research took the opportunity to test this association in our Q2 State of Blockchain Sentiment Survey. Among a wide range of questions, some were aimed at discovering the political leanings of the crypto community as they relate to the technology in general, as well as to specific coins.
And the findings were surprising.
The more than 1,200 crypto community respondents broke down to 8 percent anarcho-capitalists, 24 percent libertarians, 21 percent conservatives, 9 percent centrists, 27 percent liberals, 9 percent socialists and 3 percent nihilists. While liberal came out as the largest single category, if you combine libertarian and anarcho-capitalist, they outnumbered the liberals by 5 percentage points.
These identifications were chosen to best capture distinctive world views.
For example, libertarians can be statists (i.e., they may advocate limited government, but not necessarily the abolition of all government) whereas the anarcho-capitalists want to end the state outright.
After combining categories into our composite of the left vs. right spectrum, we observe that 52 percent of the crypto community are right-wing and 45 percent identify as being on the left. While ideologies on the right appear to make up the majority, it’s not as wide a majority as you might expect.
Considering crypto’s origins and reputation, it’s fascinating that the left makes up such a substantial minority. Two factors could explain why these results deviate from commonly-held conceptions: time and crypto partisanship by coin (or coin tribalism).
Anecdotally, libertarians made up the overwhelming majority of early crypto advocates and thus the archetype stuck with the general movement. Since then, many more people have come into the crypto world drawn by rising prices and without such strong political views. 55 percent of our Q1 survey respondents started actively following crypto in 2017. These people could be motivated by politics, but more likely came in to make money and thus held views closer to that of the general population.
Ideology across cryptocurrencies shows incredible variety. Our survey results found that certain political ideologies clustered around particular coins. Bitcoin most closely resembles the general population, while other cryptos take their own unique formations. Ethereum seems to have the highest percentage (55%) on the left while dash contains the highest concentration on the right (78%). XRP clusters towards the center, while monero inversely nurtures the extremes at both ends of the spectrum while also taking the mantle for highest percentage of anarcho-capitalists (36%).
Interpreting the data:
We reached out to a few crypto thought leaders for reactions to these findings.
On the left, Santiago Siri, Founder of DemocracyEarth, remarked, “it’s interesting to confirm the ideological biases of the communities behind the leading cryptocurrencies of our time, although probably in crypto we might need a different spectrum: one-coin-to-rule-them-all maximalists versus free market multi-token holders.”
In the center, developer and host of Ivan on Tech, Ivan Liljeqvist, suggested that, “the people who were involved in crypto from the beginning were mostly leaning towards anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism, however that changed last year when the hype around Bitcoin and the entire crypto market attracted many other people with different backgrounds”.
On the right, the Bitcoin Sign Guy said it’s “not a surprise that the coins with highly centralized leadership and governance rank highly on leftism and socialism.”
After reviewing our results he commented:
“The 2016 election had major impacts on the demographics of blockchain. Bitcoin was principally a conservative movement of goldbugs and libertarians in its early years. And an unheralded accomplishment of the ethereum blockchain might be in its ability to reach progressive blockchain investors. The 2016 election forced a divide in the community, with libertarian pursuits of independence and conservative principles finding ground in the dash, bitcoin, and bitcoin cash camps – and with collectivist interests of the left finding solutions in crowdfunding and governance structures.”
The right-leaning pioneers of pre-2017 crypto are faced with leftist migrants to their tech territory. As adoption grows, this trend will most likely continue and decrease the representation of right-wingers in crypto, especially of those at the far end.
If so, the original intention of a decentralized sound money could be sidelined for Silicon Valley’s next consumerist app, Wall Street’s next derivative database, or Washington’s facelift on monetary policy.
Check out these insights and more in the latest CoinDesk Q2 State of Blockchain report.