Personal finance

Almost half of voters say student loan forgiveness is a key issue in 2024 election, survey finds

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A woman votes at the Royal Missionary Baptist Church polling location in North Charleston, South Carolina, on February 3, 2024, during the democratic primary. 
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Almost half of all voters, or 48%, say canceling student loan debt is an important issue to them in the 2024 presidential and congressional elections, a new survey finds.

Among younger people, 70% of Gen Z respondents said the action was “very” or “somewhat” important in the election, and 72% of Black voters and 68% of Hispanic voters believe the same.

The poll of 3,812 registered voters, including 2,601 Gen Z and millennial respondents, was conducted between March 15-19 by SocialSphere, a research and consulting firm.

“This survey shows that most voters, regardless of age, believe that taking a loan to pay for education should not result in a lifetime of debt,” said John Della Volpe, CEO of SocialSphere and director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. The report was released by Protect Borrowers Action, an advocacy group.

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Outstanding education debt in the U.S. stands at roughly $1.6 trillion, and burdens Americans more than credit card or auto debt. The average loan balance at graduation is around $30,000. A quarter of borrowers were behind on their payments prior to the payment pause enacted during the Covid pandemic.

7 in 10 voters want action on student debt

Around 7 in 10 voters, 73%, believe the government should take some action on student loan debt, with 50% supporting partial or complete loan cancellation, the survey found.

Among Gen Z and millennial Democrats, 81% of voters surveyed favored loan forgiveness. More than half, 53%, of Gen Z respondents said they or someone in their household has student debts, as did 46% of young millennials and 39% of older millennials.

Many young people on the right now also support student loan cancellation, with 49% of Gen Z and millennial Republicans saying some or all outstanding education debt should be erased. Debt forgiveness has historically been a highly partisan issue, with supporters and detractors split down party lines.

Debt cancellation is less of a priority among older people, with just 37% of boomer and silent generation voters in the survey saying the issue is important to them in the upcoming elections. More than two-thirds of Republican Gen X voters, those born between 1965 and 1980, said they don’t believe student debt should be canceled.

Almost a quarter, 23%, of Gen X voters surveyed said they or someone in their household had student loan debt. Among baby boomer and silent generation voters, that share was 14%.

Support for forgiveness may impact campaign trail

The election year findings could reinforce the importance of loan forgiveness for President Joe Biden’s campaign, especially as it fights to turn around its fading support among younger voters.

The Supreme Court last June struck down the president’s $400 billion plan to deliver student loan forgiveness to as many as 40 million Americans. Since then, the Biden administration has tried to cancel the debt in various other ways, using its existing authority. Mainly by improving current loan relief programs, it has now cleared the education debts of nearly 4 million people, totaling $143.6 billion in aid.

Meanwhile, the popularity of loan forgiveness among voters may prove a challenge for Donald Trump, the GOP presidential nominee for president.

“The Republican party’s steadfast opposition to student debt relief remains a wildly unpopular stance — even with a majority of younger Republican voters,” said Mike Pierce, the executive director of Protect Borrowers Action.

It was the legal challenge by six GOP-led states that ultimately led to the death of Biden’s sweeping loan forgiveness policy at the Supreme Court.

Trump himself has a record of opposing debt cancellation.

The former president also sided with the Supreme Court in its ruling striking down Biden’s plan.

“Today, the Supreme Court also ruled that President Biden cannot wipe out hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions of dollars, in student loan debt, which would have been very unfair to the millions and millions of people who paid their debt through hard work and diligence; very unfair,” Trump said at a campaign event in June 2023.

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