As the burden of student loan debt weighs heavily on increasingly more young people in America, the idea of canceling such debt is growing in popularity — to the point that it likely will be a significant campaign issue heading into the 2020 election.
Writing for Slate, Jordan Weissman made the case that whether or not mass debt forgiveness has merit as policy, at least one Democratic candidate for president will make it a central campaign issue.
First, the issue is viscerally important to a lot of young, progressive voters who are drawn to politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for the simple reason that many of them are highly educated, underpaid, and struggling under a big pile of loans as a result. The burden of borrowing for school is one of the defining experiences that have shaped Millennials’ views of the economy, which is why student debt relief has been a constant demand from the left at least dating back to Occupy Wall Street. The desire to see those loans wiped isn’t going away.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, some recent polling suggests that the idea is broadly popular among Democrats. Back in October, the think tank Data for Progress and the debt relief advocacy group Freedom to Prosper released a report arguing at length that loan cancellation would be a political winner. At the time, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, but after the issue popped back onto my radar last week, I asked them for some of the cross-tabs from the polling they commissioned, which asked 1,500 adults the following question:
“Would you support or oppose reversing the tax cuts recently passed by Congressional Republicans and signed by President Trump, and using any proceeds to cancel outstanding student debt?”
The results are telling: among all Americans, 44 percent preferred backtracking on the tax cuts and using the money for student debt relief; among Democrats, that number jumps to 66 percent.
Breaking the numbers down further, far more Democrats strongly supported such a move than strongly disagreed with it, 48 percent to 13 percent.
Still, the issue presents some potential drawbacks:
What’s especially notable in these results is that, while a lot of Democrats strongly support the idea of forgiving student debt, relatively few strongly oppose it. One of the big political questions hanging over the concept of mass loan cancellation is whether it would anger and alienate people who have already paid off most or all of their debts, or those who did not go to college. When it comes to the Democratic primary electorate, there doesn’t seem to be much danger of turning off large numbers of voters with the idea. The concept may be more polarizing in a general election, of course (among independents, 27.2 percent strongly support it, while 28.5 percent strongly oppose it).