How Biden’s plan to cancel $10,000 in student loan debt polls
This framework will not satisfy many liberals who have been pushing for a much bolder approach with a much higher price tag. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) and Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were among those pushing to forgive $50,000 or even all student loans. This proposal will also not be met with the support of Republicans, who have criticized the idea as a document to a group of already better-off Americans than most, since those with college loan debt went to college and therefore generally have higher incomes.
But the plan Biden apparently agreed to appears to have significant support among the American people.
Surveying student debt is a complicated subject. On the one hand, people like the idea of free money. On the other hand, the criticisms that it would benefit generally already wealthier people are valid. And when you layer that on top of the problem, support diminishes – as it does when you give them more modest options than canceling all debt or even $50,000.
Monmouth University in February probed the $10,000 and $50,000 options. What he found: 61% supported the amount Biden has now focused on, but support dropped to 45% on the $50,000 option (which 53% opposed). Even 3 out of 10 Democrats didn’t want to go up to $50,000.
A Quinnipiac University Poll in 2019, however, found a significantly higher level of support for the $50,000 option – apparently in part because the question capped the earnings of those who would receive it. He asked about the $50,000 waiver, but only for households earning less than $250,000 a year. Support in this case was 57 to 40 in favor – significantly more robust than the Monmouth poll.
It’s not the only poll to suggest people are wary of the rich’s student debt forgiveness. A Grinnell College poll earlier this year gave people three options: cancel all student debt, cancel only for those who need it, and cancel none. About two-thirds wanted to cancel at least some people’s debt, but only 27% wanted to cancel everyone’s debt. The option “only for those who need it” won the majority with 39%.
These polls suggest both that 1) when given the option, people prefer lower amounts and are unsure about canceling too much debt, and 2) that support increases when you make sure it does not benefit those who are too rich. You could argue, according to this latest survey, that people could afford higher amounts with this income cap. But it seems likely that $10,000 with an income cap would meet even broader support than the 57 and 61 percent who backed canceling $50,000 in those polls.
In some ways, the numbers Biden has now landed on pretty directly reflect those polls, except for the $250,000 number which has risen to $300,000. (Not that decisions like this already be made according to the ballot numbers. Biden also offered the $10,000 figure on the 2020 campaign trail.)
Ultimately, of course, the politics of this is yet to be determined. There was a time when the Biden team and even Republicans thought Biden’s child tax credit would be a big political winner, and that didn’t really turn out to be the case.
Perhaps a group of people who suddenly see up to $10,000 in student debt canceled so close to the election will be more likely to remember it; an estimated 45 million people have student loans, and more than half owe $20,000 or less, which means it will be a significant sum for many people. And perhaps the lower amount won’t do as much to potentially alienate those who oppose the concept, or who haven’t had a college education and aren’t likely to benefit themselves. (There are also the economic impacts of a plan estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars.)
But for now, Biden appears to have opted for the safer option.