With national student debt exceeding $ 1.64 trillion, student loans have become a major topic during the presidential race. But as the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic crisis threaten elections, student loans may no longer be at the forefront of voters’ concerns.
So while student loans remain a burning issue for some indebted borrowers, their ability to influence large groups of voters may have waned, several public poll experts told Student Loan Hero.
Student loan debt was a focus during the primary
Thinking back to early this year in the primaries, student loans were a major talking point, especially among Democratic candidates, according to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
“Student loan debt – as well as tuition in general – was an issue on the agenda of the Democratic primaries,” Murray said. “What this means is that it was prominent enough among the primary voters that all candidates had to respond in one way or another.”
But Murray doesn’t think national student debt remains a major concern for most voters.
“As for the general elections, it is certainly important for those who [student debt], but that does not seem to be a decisive question in determining the choice of vote, ”he said.
A recent Politico and Morning Consult poll supports this finding, finding that only 6% of respondents prioritized education issues such as student debt when they voted for federal offices.
Voters with student loans may gravitate to Democrats
As for concerned student loan borrowers, Murray predicts that a majority of their votes will likely go to Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
“One thing we are seeing is that Biden has a significant lead among voters under 35, whether they have a college degree or not, which can be an indicator of student loan debt,” he said. he declared.
J. Miles Coleman, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Political Bulletin Sabato crystal ball at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, agrees that indebted borrowers may well favor Biden, especially given his proposals for a tuition-free public college and a partial forgiveness of federal student loans.
“If this is an issue that is important to you, I don’t think you support [President Donald] Trump, ”Coleman said. “It’s not really an issue he mentioned, as he has received quite a bit of traction on the Democratic side.”
In particular, Coleman believes that focusing on student loan issues might help Biden among younger voters.
“Millennials and younger voters in general tend to be more Democrats overall, so Democrats would want more of a graduated student loan plan to appeal to their natural demographic constituency,” he said.
Coleman also says this question could potentially appeal to older voters who want their children and grandchildren to avoid large student debt.
“If Democrats and Biden can present this as a question of ‘If you want your grandchildren to have a better future or if we can get rid of some of this student loan debt, it will be less of a burden on them. future generations “, it can also help with senior voting,” he said.
Concerns about student loans may reappear after forbearance ends
While student loan reform was in the spotlight a few months ago, it seems to have taken a back seat due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“Student loans are not in the foreground right now,” Coleman said. “The pandemic tends to dominate everything. Maybe if we get a vaccine or if the pandemic becomes less of a problem, then the student loan issues could carry a little more weight. “
Sarah Sattelmeyer, director of the Student Borrower Success Project at Pew Charitable Trusts, says student loans will be a major problem for Americans when the temporary emergency federal forbearance period ends.
“As Congress and the White House have acted to help alleviate the challenges borrowers face by suspending payments, interest charges, and collection efforts until the end of the year, these difficulties are expected. last longer than temporary interventions, ”Sattelmeyer said.
Once the forbearance period ends, she said, tens of millions of borrowers are expected to return to active repayment, despite continued financial insecurity.
“During and after the pandemic, policymakers need a clear understanding of the points in the repayment process where borrowers typically get lost, and specific actions that can promote successful repayment,” she said. “While understanding that it was important before the pandemic, now it’s even more critical. “
Coleman agrees, adding that student loan debt is likely to become a driving problem in elections in the future.
“It will probably take years to recover from most effects of the coronavirus pandemicSaid Coleman. “But while student debt might not be at the forefront of the issue now, I think most millennials realize that at some point we’re going to need to have someone who understands this. problem.”