President Joe Biden’s poll numbers are awful heading into the 2022 midterm elections, and it sure seems like the White House is getting desperate. The Biden administration clearly wants to distract voters from economic turmoil, sky-high inflation, and foreign strife happening under its watch — and its latest effort to do so is a reported plan to “cancel” some student debt. But new polling suggests that this might not be the political Hail Mary that Biden hopes.
At issue here is the White House’s plan, still in the works, to issue an executive order canceling up to $10,000 in student loans per debtholder. To be clear, “canceling” debt really means that federal taxpayers absorb the burden. Biden’s plan would reportedly only be extended to those earning less than $150,000 or households earning less than $300,000.
Biden has wisely rejected the push from the Democratic Party’s left flank to cancel all student debt or up to $50,000 per borrower. This would be wildly regressive, helping affluent, high-earning, educated people at the expense of all taxpayers. (One study even found that full student debt cancellation would offer six times more in benefits to the top 20% of income earners than the bottom 20%.)
Yet even the president’s more limited, income-capped measure would still likely be regressive, albeit less so. Why? Well, because, by definition, it only helps the fraction of people who went to college — and they earn significantly more than the rest of society, on average.
This may be why new polling finds that student debt “cancellation” is less popular than Biden might expect. Echelon Insights reports that a plurality of likely voters think student debt cancellation is “unfair to those who worked hard to pay off their student loans” and “disproportionately benefits wealthier families.” Interestingly, nearly 30% of Democratic-leaning voters agreed!
In a twist that stands out from other recent polls, Echelon also surveyed college graduates who are likely voters. This time, 50% said cancellation was unfair — even though many of them presumably would benefit from the policy.
To be clear, these voters were surveyed about the matter of student debt cancellation more broadly, not Biden’s specific proposal. It could be that the White House’s more narrow initiative is more popular.
But this new polling does confirm that the issue of student debt “cancellation” is still one that’s polarizing and divisive, even among the supposed beneficiaries and a significant number of Democratic-leaning voters. So, if Biden is hoping a student loan bailout can save his party in the midterm elections, he may well be in for some disappointment.
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