Student Loan Cancellation – Effectiveness of Counterarguments

Polls show support for cancelling some (though not all) student debt. The American Majority Project decided to measure the effectiveness of arguments against student loan cancellation.

Download the report here.

In a poll of 2000 likely voters conducted by McLaughlin and Associates, support for President Biden cancelling student loan debt was modestly strong.

Overall, 58 percent of likely voters support President Biden cancelling student, debt ,while 42 percent oppose. 33 percent strongly support while 28 percent strongly oppose. There are significant partisan and age differences in support.

  • 82 percent of Democrats support President Biden cancelling student debt, with 54% strongly supporting. Meanwhile, only 37 percent of Republicans support cancelling student debt with 47 percent strongly opposing.
  • The most supportive age group of cancelling student debt is millennials, with 76% supporting (49% strongly) and only 24% opposing, followed closely by Gen Z, with 72% percent supporting (35% strongly) and only 28% opposing.
  • The Silent Generation is the most opposed subgroup, with just 21% supporting and 79% opposing (60% strongly).

Despite the support, a large majority of voters find arguments against cancelling student loan debt to be convincing. We tested four messages:

  1. It would be unfair to the tens of millions of Americans who paid back their loans and would then have to pay back other people’s loans with their tax dollars. 77% convincing (46% very convincing)
  2. It will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt, which will make inflation worse. 76% convincing (46% convincing)
  3. It does nothing to solve the underlying problem of high college tuition; in fact, it would make the problem worse by encouraging colleges to raise their tuitions even higher & cause students to take out even bigger loans. 77% convincing (42% very convincing)
  4. Student debt is disproportionately held by higher income families. College graduates already earn 75% more over their lifetime than those with just a high school diploma. Relief should be going to those who need it most. 72% convincing (35% very convincing)

While the argument playing up the relatively privileged nature of those with student debt was not as effective overall, it performed the best with Democrats.

Independent women, meanwhile, found the argument about cancelling student debt making the underlying problems worse most convincing.

Overall support for student debt cancellation drops only modestly after hearing the arguments against (from 58 to 52% support). However, the net change in the difference between strong support and strong opposition is significant, moving from +5 (33 to 28) to -4 (26 to 30). The most significant drops in strong and overall support occurred among Independent Women and Moderates.

The results suggest that who oppose cancelling student debt can effectively neutralize the issue with the right arguments, though not so much that support for cancellation can be made into a major liability. Potential language for someone who opposes student debt cancellation would be:

The high cost of college is a major problem and so I understand why some people would support cancelling student debt, but I’m not ready to support it at this time. First, its not fair to the people who did pay off their debt to have to pay for other people’s debt with their tax dollars. Second, it will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt and make inflation worse. Third, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem of high tuition – and could actually make it worse by encouraging colleges to raise their tuitions even more and students to take out bigger loans.

Download the report: