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Student debt relief could be lifeline to swing states, young voters for Biden

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President Biden is pouring a tremendous amount of political capital into student loan relief ahead of the November election, and experts say the impact in key states could be crucial.  

“The swing states are going to be kind of where we look to see the biggest targeted return, states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan,” said Michael Hopkins, CEO of Northern Starr Strategies.

The few remaining purple states have seen billions of dollars in student loan forgiveness since Biden took office, and with polling showing a tight race with former President Trump, every voter counts.   

“Loan borrowers in the country, distressed student loan borrowers, I think they are the largest, really politically untethered voting bloc in modern American history,” said Alan Collinge, founder of StudentLoanJustice.org. “This is a huge group of people who vote in a much higher percentage than average.” 

The U.S. has more than 44 million student loan borrowers, with a total debt of over $1.6 trillion. So far in Biden’s presidency, he has forgiven $153 billion.

On Monday, the Biden administration released a chart showing which states have received the most student debt relief through income-driven repayment (IDR) programs. California, Florida and Texas, all states with great electoral power, are at the top of the list, while Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska hit the bottom.  

But swing states have also received substantial relief.

Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina are all home to more than a million active student loan borrowers. And according to the chart released by the White House Monday, most swing states have received more than a billion dollars in debt relief; Pennsylvania is at $4.9 billion, while Arizona has seen $2.5 billion in loan forgiveness.

“I just think we’re looking at very slim margins in certain states where young people” will be able to “look at how their economic future could be transformed by [student debt relief],” said Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, president of NextGen America. “That could be what wins the election.” 

John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics, released an analysis on Monday, highlighting that 70 percent of voters believe the government needs to take some action on student loans.  

Forgiveness has strong support among younger voters, a group Biden has had difficulties tapping into against Trump in the polls. 

One survey from NPR/NewsHour/Marist Poll showed Trump was up 2 points among millennials and Gen Z over Biden. 

Ramirez said she talked to a young voter a few weeks ago who got loan forgiveness from one of Biden’s initiatives and told her that “because I got so much of my student debt cancelled that I feel like I have a debt to the Biden administration to make sure to turn out and vote for them and do everything I can to get them elected.” 

Biden had two major student loan forgiveness announcement this week. On Monday, he proposed plans that would forgive some or all of the debt for those who have growth on unpaid interest, borrowers on various IDR plans, people who have been paying on student loans for more than 20 years, individuals experiencing hardship and people who went to low-financial-value education programs.  

And on Friday, Biden announced he is giving out $7.4 billion in relief for 277,000 borrowers in over 40 states.

The moves come as voters say the economy is a weak issue for Biden overall. A Marquette Law School poll in February found only 25 percent of respondents felt the economy was doing “excellent” or “good.”

“The campaign really needs to be surrounding and drowning those who have been impacted by student loan debt, and having them tell the story of what Joe Biden’s policies have done for them, and how that has opened up other doors for them to not only build and create wealth, but have a little more breathing room when it comes to their everyday life,”  said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist.  

The proposed plan will likely be challenged by Republicans, who argue the Biden administration is trying to buy votes.  

“The administration is tone deaf. There’s no other way to put it,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the House Education Committee, said after Biden’s Friday announcement of $7 billion in loan relief.  

“We know that instead of doing its job the administration focused time, energy, and resources on its illegal student loan scheme. And that has been frustrating, especially since it has jeopardized the academic journey of millions of students,” Foxx said, referring to the difficulties with the rollout of new federal financial aid forms for college applicants.  

Biden’s defenders say conservatives are missing the point.  

“I think a lot of a lot of Republicans like to say that this is a giveaway. That this is how Biden’s trying to win votes on this. You bet,” said Ramirez. “That’s what a democracy is about. You make campaign promises and you deliver on them, and people vote for you because you change their lives. If they don’t like it, they don’t like democracy.”  

Stalwart GOP opposition to helping student loan borrowers, advocates say, has already cost them at the ballot box, and could do so again.

“I think [student debt relief] will be highly successful for the Democrats” in the election, Collinge said. “I think student loans are the reason that the red wave never materialized in the 2022 midterms. It’s a very good political strategy on the part of the Democrats.”  

“I would say that the Democrats are playing the Republicans like a fiddle on this issue,” he added.  



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