The vast majority of young Americans want the government’s help addressing the $1.7 trillion student loan debt crisis, but there’s no consensus among them as to what that help should look like.
In fact, a national poll released Monday by the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School shows that only 38% support total debt cancellation – an action that the progressive flank of the Democratic Party has been pressing President Joe Biden to take since the day he was inaugurated.
Meanwhile, 27% favor the government assisting with repayment options without any debt cancellation, 21% favor debt cancellation for those with the most need and 13% believe the government should not change current policy.
While support for full cancellation has increased 5 percentage points since 2020, preference for the government helping with repayment decreased 8 points.
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The president has been resolute in resisting calls to cancel student loan debt, despite mounting pressure from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and the progressive bloc in the House led by Rep. Ayanna Presley of Massachusetts, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and others, which both influences and energizes young voters.
They’ve argued that Biden has the executive authority to cancel $50,000 in federal student loan debt and frame it not only as a way to relieve economic stress that disproportionately impacts low-income Black and Hispanic borrowers but also as a responsibility to voters of color who were crucial to his election.
But Biden has never backed the wholesale cancellation of federal student loan debt, saying even during his campaign that while he might support canceling up to $10,000 in student loan debt, he didn’t think the president had the authority to do so. He’s also cited concerns about canceling debt for borrowers who graduated from elite schools like Harvard – essentially adhering to the idea that wide-scale student loan debt cancellation often benefits wealthier borrowers.
The lack of consensus found in the poll speaks to the strategy the White House has taken in its first year by carving out loan forgiveness for certain groups of borrowers.
So far, the Biden administration canceled more than $17 billion in federal student loan debt for roughly 725,000 borrowers, including $8 billion for borrowers who have become permanently disabled, $7 billion for borrowers enrolled in the public service loan forgiveness program, and more than $3 billion for borrowers who were defrauded by their school or were enrolled in ITT Technical Institutes before it abruptly closed.
“We are working really, really hard where there is clear authority to help borrowers,” James Kvaal, Undersecretary of Education, told reporters last week upon announcing a new slate of changes to federal student loan repayment programs that are set to provide debt cancellation for 40,000 borrowers.
“Every day we are engaged in conversations about how to make the programs work better and how to get borrowers the relief they’re entitled to,” he said.
The poll, which is updated regularly and considered a bellwether for how young voters will turnout during election years, indicates that people 18-29 are on track to match 2018’s record-breaking youth turnout during midterm election this November – and prefer Democratic control – but also recorded a sharp increase in youth believing that “political involvement rarely has tangible results.”