Voters under 45 support student debt cancelation in overwhelming numbers, and new polling from Courier Newsroom and Data for Progress shows canceling some amount of federal student loan debt could be a political winner for President Joe Biden.
Tens of millions of Americans with federal student loans are holding their breath to see whether they’ll have to start making payments again in September or whether President Joe Biden might extend the pause on payments—or even cancel some portion of their debts.
That includes some 661,000 borrowers between the ages of 25 and 34 in Pennsylvania, who owe an average of more than $35,000 each, totaling more than $23 billion, according to recent data from the Education Data Initiative.
EDI’s report shows that Pennsylvania borrowers between the ages of 50 and 61 owe the most of any age group, with an average debt of $46,926. Meanwhile, 447,200 35- to 49-year-olds in Pennsylvania owe an average of $46,377, totaling $20.74 billion, and 75,100 federal borrowers in Pennsylvania aged 62 years and older owe an average $45,539, totaling $3.42 billion.
If Biden takes both of these steps, he’d be doing something that a 58% majority of Americans support, according to a new Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll.
That’s right: Nearly six in 10 voters support extending the pause on federal student loan payments, a moratorium which first began in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic and is currently set to expire at the end of August. Support for extending the pause is particularly high among voters under 45, two-thirds of whom support postponing payments. In contrast, only 37% of voters oppose extending the pause.
Of that 58% of voters who support the pause, well over half want the moratorium extended either indefinitely or for at least a year.
The margin of support for cancelation of federal student loan debt is even higher, with 58% of voters supporting some amount of debt cancelation—including 45% who support canceling at least $25,000—compared to only 34% who oppose cancelation outright. Again, voters under 45 are especially supportive of canceling federal student debt.
That already-strong level of support climbed even higher when voters were asked if they supported debt cancelation for middle- and low-income borrowers specifically. Sixty-three percent of voters said they support cancelation of at least $10,000 in debt for these populations.
Biden—who reportedly is contemplating canceling $10,000 in debt for every borrower earning under $125,000 per year—has faced pressure from young Americans, student loan borrowers, activists, and progressives to cancel a higher amount of debt. Supporters of cancelation argue that debt cancelation is both morally just and politically beneficial, pointing out that Biden’s approval rating—which is dismal with voters under 35—would benefit from cancelation.
The data suggests the salience of this argument; canceling some amount of debt for the 43 million Americans with $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt is popular and an electoral winner with young voters, who overwhelmingly lean Democratic when they vote.
The survey asked voters whether they’d be more likely to vote if Biden canceled some amount of student debt. While a majority of respondents overall said cancelation would not impact their plans to vote, 44% of voters under 45 said they’d be more likely to vote if the Biden administration canceled debt. Only 8% of this demographic said they’d be less likely to vote if Biden canceled some level of debt, with another 48% saying it would make no difference.
When asked whether Biden canceling debt would make them more or less likely to vote for Democrats specifically, 41% of voters under 45 said they’d be more likely to vote for Democrats, compared to only 18% who said they’d be less likely and 41% who said it’d make no difference.
Some critics of student loan cancelation have argued that it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, since future generations will simply accumulate more debt as the cost of higher education continues to surge.
This is a point worth noting, and supporters of cancelation broadly agree that the exorbitant cost of education needs to be addressed and resolved. Their approach can perhaps best be summed up as “why not both?” Why not solve the problem and help people who are suffering now and prevent people from suffering in the future?
Most Americans support canceling some amount of student loans, but an even higher percentage supports addressing the root causes of the outrageous cost of higher education.
An overwhelming 84% of voters believe that we should lower public college tuition or make it free, compared to only 12% who believe the cost of public college should remain the same.
Even though there is enormous support for reducing the cost of public universities and colleges, actually reforming higher education will require concerted political action across all levels of government—federal, state, and local.
Until lawmakers display the political will to do that, student debt cancelation may be the best way to help pull millions of Americans out from under the weight of crushing debt.
Keystone associate editor Patrick Berkery contributed to this report.