According to an August 2022 Cato Institute/YouGov poll conducted just before the President’s announcement, 64% of respondents support the government’s forgiving up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those who earn less than $150,000 a year as single people, or less than $300,000 for a married couple.
These results mostly square with what our group of 11 Trump-to-Biden swing voters in North Carolina told us on September 12.
Eight out of the eleven swing voters support Biden’s plan. When asked why, Alana P., 26, from Dover, NC, said “I’ve seen so many friends that have these student loans struggling to pay them off… I think this is a really good thing for our country. It gives [people with student loans] a fresh start, not having to worry about loans, and actually get things started for their lives.”
Kayla L., 34, from Mocksville, NC, agreed: “People are struggling with these student loans. It’s not like it was 20, 30 years ago. [With] the interest rates, you never pay them off. It seems like the interest rates just goes up and up and up and even just the $10,000 is going to help so many people that need it.”
Shanequa W., 44, from Wilson, NC, added some first-hand perspective: “I have student loan debt. Any little bit helps.”
All 11 had heard of the student loan forgiveness plan, but it is especially notable that only two of the 11 carry outstanding student loans themselves—so they don’t stand to benefit directly. None of them had children or partners carrying student loan debt.
The majority of swing voters in the sessions, while familiar with the plan, didn’t know specific details when asked what they’d heard so far. We shared the following: President Biden announced last month that most federal student loan borrowers will be eligible for some forgiveness: up to $10,000 if one didn’t receive a Pell Grant, which is a type of aid available to low-income undergraduate students, and up to $20,000 if one did.
Of the three respondents not fully supporting the plan, their main concerns stemmed from funding. “It’s a double-edged sword. It’s great for people that have student loans that they can be forgiven. But I think on the other hand, if we’re going to go to a society that people don’t have to pay for their education, what type of quality education are they going to receive and how are those schools going to stay in business to teach and to educate people without raising more taxes? … Somehow or someway that school’s got to get paid,” said Asa H., 61, from Monroe, NC.
In a nationwide survey by the Trafalgar Group and Convention of States, Action published September 12, 56% of likely general election voters say they are either “much less likely” or “somewhat less likely” to vote for candidates who support the student loan debt forgiveness.
But that level of animation on this issue is not at all what we’re hearing from North Carolina swing voters. While they clearly are aware of and have opinions about this plan, they say it will not make much of a difference on election day. Only one of the 11 said it might affect how they will vote in November, and even that one didn’t view it as a key voting issue.
For them, what will weigh more heavily on their minds are abortion rights, inflation, the economy, and former President Trump.
Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group.
Susie Pieper is a student at Haverford College and an intern at Engagious.