Americans support Biden's student-loan debt cancellation by 51% to 39%

Linley SandersData Journalist
September 02, 2022, 4:11 PM GMT+0

President Joe Biden announced a plan last week to cancel student-loan debt for millions of borrowers who are still paying off education bills.

The latest Economist/YouGov poll shows Americans are more likely to support (51%) than oppose (39%) the federal government canceling up to $10,000 in federal student loans for people who qualify. This plan is especially popular among Americans who currently have student loans (80% support) — with less support from people who have paid off all their student loans (50%) or who never had them (43%). Democrats overwhelmingly support the plan (80%, while 14% oppose) while Independents are split (44% vs. 42%) and most Republicans oppose it (23% vs. 71%).

Most Americans view student-loan debt as a serious problem – including 59% of people who have never had a loan and 62% of those who have paid theirs off. Nearly one in five adults (17%) still has student-loan debt, including 12% of Americans who do not have college degrees. While most people who have student-loan debt are under the age of 45, 5% of Americans who are 65 or older say they currently hold student-loan debt.

Fewer than half of Americans (43%) say they personally know someone who will have their student-loan debt reduced because of the recent cancellation. Biden repeatedly has said that the loan forgiveness will benefit middle-class borrowers — a claim that Republicans have disputed. As of now, the share of Americans who say they will personally have their debt reduced is slightly higher among higher-income groups: 17% of people earning at least $100,000 annually say they will personally benefit, compared to 12% of people earning under $50,000 annually.

Most Americans are concerned about the fairness of the cancellation of student debt, with 56% agreeing that it is unfair to people who have paid off their loans and 50% saying it's unfair to people who never attended college. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) who have paid off their own college loans agree that it is unfair to them. Some critics of the plan have said that canceling student-loan debt could increase inflation — a claim that divides economists. While many Americans believe the plan will have no effect on inflation (41%), those who do expect an effect are more likely to see the executive action as increasing (44%) than decreasing (16%) inflation.

There are other potential changes to the student-loan system proposed by the Biden administration that Americans are more likely to support than oppose:

  • Capping monthly payments for student loans at 5% of a borrower’s monthly income (55% support, 20% oppose)
  • Ensuring that the loan balance will not grow as long as people make monthly payments (54% support, 28% oppose).
  • Forgiving loans after 10 years of payments if the balance is $12,000 or less (49% support, 33% oppose)

When it comes to the increase in student debt in the U.S., the largest share of Americans blame colleges and universities — 61% blame them a lot — relative to other potential culprits polled about. The schools are, followed by banks and other lending institutions, blamed a lot by 46% of Americans. Some blame is also put on the federal government — blamed a lot by 37% of Americans — though only 44% of Americans say that student-loan debt is something the federal government has any responsibility to address. Just 25% of Americans give a lot of the blame to the students themselves, and even fewer —17% — blame the parents a lot.

Legal challenges to Biden's student-debt forgiveness plan are expected, with the ultimate question being whether the President of the United States has the authority to cancel federal student loan debt through an executive order. Americans are split on this question — 39% say the President has the authority and 38% say the President doesn't — with people who favor the plan being especially likely to believe the President does.

— Taylor Orth, Oana Dumitru, and Carl Bialik contributed to this article

This poll was conducted on August 28 - 30, 2022 among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll.

Image: Getty Images, Alex Wong / Staff