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Will President Joe Biden’s student-loan forgiveness plan help the Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections?

With the odds stacked against them Democrats will hope their student debt plan will gain them votes but it marks a betrayal of a promise to cancel it all.

¿Cuándo se reanudan los pagos de los préstamos estudiantiles en Estados Unidos?
Paul MorigiGetty

Nearly two years into his presidency, President Joe Biden has fulfilled one-fifth of one of his campaign pledges; to cancel all student debt. In a similar fraction, one-fifth of the 43 million students with outstanding debt owe less than $10,000 so they will indeed see the remnant cancelled.

Promisingly for the Democrats, cancellation of student debt is broadly popular. In a Data for Progress poll, 60 percent of respondents believed the federal government should forgive all or some student loan debt. Of demographic groups asked their opinion, Republicans had the lowest levels of support at 45 percent.

Will debt cancellation help that much in the midterms?

With student debt trebling since 2007, it can be assumed that the majority of those still in debt are under the age of 35. Unfortunately for Democrats, this is also the age group which votes the least in elections with under 60 percent of people voting according to census data. This problem is exacerbated by lower voter turnout typical of midterm elections.

While student debt cancellation may have been passed, not much else has. Apart from the covid-19 stimulus checks, long since expired, and the debt forgiveness and the Inflation Reduction Act, both only passed in the last month, Democrats have very little to show the electorate after two years in the job. Only one of those, the Inflation Reduction Act, is specifically targeted at economic recovery despite the issue being the most important in the mind of voters. A whopping 77 percent ranking the economy as their most pressing concern if latest polling is to be believed.

This is particularly true for Republicans of whom 90 percent say the economy is very important while just 52 percent feel the same about education. While student debt cancellation could fall into both categories, the overall state of the economy is playing on voters minds more, especially in those who need to be convinced to vote blue this November.

For the students, whom the debt cancellation is targeted toward, it would not be a surprise if there was some lingering disappointment at the lack of ambition in the cancellation plan. The $10,000 debt cancellation removed around $500 billion of student debt but that still leaves $1.4 trillion outstanding debt with the same persistant problems of predatory interest. With the Democrat leadership saying it could all be wiped, with Senate Majority Leader Schumer saying in October 2021 it could be accomplished with the “flick of a pen” by the president, voters could decide the $10,000 is not enough. Accompanying this is the return of payment of loans and accruation of interest soon, piling on bills for young Americans already struggling in a difficult economic setting.

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What does the most recent polling suggest?

August 2022 has seen Democrats out-poll Republicans for the first time since October 2021, overturning at times a 2.7 percentage point deficit. This coincides with the passing of the two most recent bills and could suggest a turn in fortunes for the party.

However, with months still remaining there are plenty of chances for the Republicans to take back their lead. If the Democrats want to keep up the pressure then they need to keep passing bills that help average Americans. It sounds obvious, but it has taken too long for the Democrats to get themselves into gear.