28% of Americans bought GameStop or other viral stocks in January: Yahoo Finance-Harris Poll

Over a quarter of American adults say they bought GameStop (GME) or another viral stock in January, according to a new survey from Yahoo Finance and The Harris Poll.

The GameStop frenzy, kicked off by the subreddit r/wallstreetbets, struck a chord with many retail investors and individuals who resented what they viewed as the Wall Street establishment, a few hedge funds that had shorted the stock, betting it would go down.

The survey data speaks to the scope of the tug of war between short sellers and retail investors flooding the market with money.

Despite recent losses, GameStop is up more than 150% year-to-date. It’s now worth around 10% of its all-time intraday high, when it was trading at $483 for a moment at the end of January.

Using a representative sample size of 1,089 Americans, the survey found that GameStop wasn’t actually the most popular stock from a “how many people bought it” standpoint. While 9% of Americans bought at least one share of GameStop, according to the poll, 10% bought a share of AMC Entertainment (AMC). Other popular stocks of the Reddit frenzy included BlackBerry (BB) at 6%, Nokia (NOK) at 5%, Castor Maritime (CTRM) at 4%, and about a dozen other "meme stocks."

The median investment, according to the survey, was $150. Around 7% of people who bought viral stocks invested between $1,001 and $5,000 and 8% invested over $5,000. This drove up the average investment to $8,533.

All in, 28% of Americans say they bought one of these viral stocks, the Yahoo Finance-Harris Poll found. In the Conference Board's quarterly U.S. Consumer Dynamics Report, surveys found that more people are buying stocks because they have fewer spending options due to COVID-19. Boredom and a higher savings rate may have played a significant role as well.

In relative terms, 35% of people who bought one of these stocks bought AMC, 33% bought GameStop, and 23% bought BlackBerry.

The Yahoo Finance-Harris Poll survey found the demographic breakdown of the GameStop mania is what most people might expect: the group that put the most money in was men between 18 to 44, at 40%. Only 17% of women in this age range invested in these stocks.

In terms of the amounts, just over half of investments were under $250 in size, but 15% of the people who invested this past January invested $1,000 or more.

Around half of buyers sold in January and a third planned to hold for less than a month. (The survey was conducted between Feb. 2 and 5.)

All thanks to the internet

The survey shed light on how exactly all these investors discovered a fairly back-water stock: the news, trading forums, and social media had a three-way tie, showing the diverse paths investors had to the stock.

A lot of news coverage, forum chatter on sites like Reddit, and Twitter and TikTok memes about “diamond hands” (holding amid volatility), a narrative emerged about how these small-time Reddit investors were sticking it to the big Wall Street guys in the image of David vs. Goliath.

Some investors did want to win against the shorts — and crush them in a squeeze — this was only the motivation for 15% of investors. Advice from social media or forums drove the buying more than other motivating factors. Even buying via a recommendation from a financial adviser beat the revenge narrative for those who bought, 20% to 15%.

The meme stock moment also saw a high portion of retail buyers use more complex financial instruments. Only 55% of respondents who bought these meme stocks did so with a standard market order, according to the survey data. Meanwhile, 29% used conditional trading like a limit order, 22% bought call options, and 15% bought with margin — borrowing money to get in.

A lot of these buyers were new to the market. The survey found that 43% of the people who said they had a brokerage account had signed up within the past month, an enormous uptick that matches Google trends results that showed that more people were googling “how to buy stocks” than ever before.

Another important theme that emerged in late January was a sense of outrage at the plumbing system that powers stock trading, a part of investing infrastructure that’s somewhat opaque. Settlement periods, market makers, clearinghouses, and collateral were all thrust into the light — the first time many investors ever heard these terms.

The GameStop experience may have changed that, at least to a degree. According to the survey, 72% of the people who bought viral stocks in January had done research at least by the beginning of February to learn more about how the market works — a factor that may make the next “GameStop” even more interesting.

Editor’s note: This survey is based on verbal responses, and has not been confirmed by trading records.


Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.