Biden student loan handouts get approval from just 3 in 10 Americans

President Biden’s student loan handouts, a campaign priority for the Democrat incumbent, received approval from just 30% of Americans, according to the results of a new national poll released on Tuesday. 

Three in 10 U.S. adults say they approve of how Biden has handled the issue of student loan debt, while 4 in 10 disapprove, a new poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found. The others are neutral or say they do not know enough to say.

Among those responsible for unpaid student loan debt, either for themselves or for a family member, just 36% of respondents approve of Biden’s handling of the handouts, while 34% disapprove.

The results reveal a deep divide over the issue of student debt relief even as Biden is pressing ahead with a new cancelation plan in a bid to energize young adults and Black and Hispanic Americans. Those groups are more likely to prioritize student loan relief but have flagging approval for the president, according to the AP. 

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After Biden’s first attempt at a widespread student loan handout was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, he proposed a more targeted plan offering relief to certain categories of borrowers. The Biden administration has separately erased student debt for about 4 million people through existing programs, the AP reported. 

The results showed that Americans overall had a dimmer view on the Supreme Court’s handling of student loan handouts: 15% approve of its work on the issue and around one-quarter disapprove.

The poll of 1,309 adults was conducted May 16-21, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Biden’s new plan would erase some or all debt for several groups: those with so much accrued interest that they owe more than they originally borrowed, those who have been repaying undergraduate loans for at least 20 years, borrowers who went to low-value college programs that leave graduates with large sums of debt compared to their earnings and those who face other kinds of financial hardship.

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The poll found that none of those categories have support from a majority of Americans. 

Just under half supported relief for those who have made on-time payments for 20 years, and 44% support it for people who now owe more on their loan than they originally borrowed. About 4 in 10 supported it for those who went to an institution that left borrowers with large amounts of debt compared to their incomes or those facing other forms of financial hardship.

About 4 in 10 adults said it is extremely or very important for the federal government to provide student debt relief. A similar share said it is not too important or not important at all, with about one-quarter in the middle, saying they believe it is somewhat important. Just 15% of Republicans said it is extremely or very important to prioritize government action on student debt, compared to 58% of Democrats. 

Republicans often say taxpayers should not get burdened with repaying other people’s college debt.

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The poll found younger adults are more likely to prioritize government action on student debt, with about half under 45 saying it is extremely or very important, compared to 3 in 10 older adults who said the same.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.