Recent polling suggests that Democrats might not get the boost from young voters they were hoping for this November, following the announcement of President Biden's sweeping student loan debt forgiveness plan.
According to data released on Monday by progressive polling group Data for Progress, Americans ages 18 to 29 rank student loan debt relief fairly low on their list of policy priorities for Congressional candidates. Only 8 percent of young people rank the subject as among their top three issues of concern. Thus, while the Biden administration appears to be banking on debt relief to gain votes during November's upcoming midterms, Data for Progress' polling suggests that young people's apparent focus on the issue may have been overblown.
In August, President Biden announced a student loan debt forgiveness plan which aims to forgive up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers making under $125,000 each year, and married couples making under $250,000. The plan would also overhaul already-existing Income-Driven Repayment plans (IDRs), dramatically reducing the amount individuals in such plans would be required to pay back before loan forgiveness. In all, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the plan will cost $400 billion, not including IDR and other loan program changes.
Despite the plan's cost, it remains broadly popular with young people. According to Data for Progress, 65 percent of surveyed 18–29-year-olds expressed approval of Biden's student loan forgiveness plan—even though only 49 percent of respondents reported having or expecting to have student loan debt at some point in their lives. However, while the policy is viewed favorably among nearly two-thirds of young voters, the same group of voters doesn't view the policy as a major priority either—something that could spell trouble for Democrats.
In its survey of young people, Data for Progress' asked participants to select three policy issues out of a pool of 16 to rank as their "most important issues for a candidate for Congress to focus on." While student debt relief is a popular policy, it was also one of the least popular issues of top concern. Only 8 percent of respondents listed the issue among their top three, placing the topic near the bottom of respondents' priorities.
In contrast, economic issues took the top spots among survey respondents. Inflation, abortion rights, and jobs and the economy were the most popular issues cited as top priorities for Congressional candidates, with each subject present in over 30 percent of respondents' lists. "Government spending and the budget deficit," while not cracking the top half of important topics, still appeared in 12 percent of respondents' top concerns—four points more than for student debt relief.
This polling data paint a concerning picture for Democrats hoping to make major gains in upcoming midterms by banking on the wide popularity of student debt forgiveness. While voting behavior is determined by a myriad of reasons, this most recent survey offers little evidence of a strong cohort of single-issue voters for student debt relief.
While Democrats may have hoped that spending nearly half a trillion dollars on student loan debt forgiveness would help score voters in November's midterms, recent polling data from Data for Progress shed some doubt on that notion. Making matters worse, an obscenely expensive loan forgiveness plan stands to exacerbate the economic issues that seem to dominate young voters' concerns—most notably by reversing the effects of the Inflation Reduction Act, and then some.
How this dynamic will, or won't, play out in November remains to be seen. However, if things do go poorly for Democrats, it may prove a staggeringly expensive lesson on the hazards of focusing too intently on the wrong political issue.