Most Student Loan Borrowers are Republican or Independent
The claim that student loan borrowers are largely liberal is a myth.
One out of every 5 adults in the U.S.- of all political stripes- have student loans. However, there is a longstanding cultural stereotype in the U.S. that politically, these people identify largely as democrats. The media has gone to great lengths to reinforce and exaggerate this claim.
Analysis of years worth of Pew and Gallup data reveals that this is not true. In fact, the data shows that today, most student loan borrowers identify as either republican or independent. With 45 million federal borrowers, and 10–15 million private student loan borrowers and cosigners, these people comprise the largest untethered voting bloc in modern American history.
In 2014 Pew Research looked at party affiliation for people who had gone to college, and looked specifically at graduates (who comprise about 60% of all students) vs. non-graduates (who make up about 40% of all students). While nationally, democrats have always outnumbered republicans in the U.S. - and this disparity persists for college graduates and non-graduates- Pew found that the number of republicans/independents was equal to the number of democrats for this group.
However, the Gallup Poll tracked national party affiliation trends (across all demographics) since 2014, and has found that over the past 7 years, the nation has moved measurably to the right. Republican Party affiliation (as averaged over monthly and bi-monthly surveys for both 2014 and 2021), has increased by a full percentage point, while party affiliation for both independents and democrats has decreased slightly.
Given that the large majority (two-thirds) of colleges students take out student loans, and that their political affiliation approximates that of former college students generally, and that this national affiliation trend filters down to former college attendees generally, it is clear that among student loan borrowers, more than half identify, politically, as either republican or independent.
Policy makers- particularly republican policy makers- ignore this demographic at their great peril. Prior to the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of student loan borrowers were not paying on their student loans, and fully 75% of all federal borrowers were “underwater” (ie not paying, or paying but with an increasing loan balance) on their loans*. So, more than 36 million people in the country were in financial distress over their student loans. This has likely increased during the pandemic. These people vote.
By consistently opposing both student loan cancellation, and until recently, the return of bankruptcy rights to student loans, republicans- and the GOP generally- is alienating not just tens of millions of left-leaning voters, but also an even greater number of right-leaning supporters.
The fact that the Georgia elections of 2020 were even close for the democrats in that historically “red” state (Nearly 2 million Georgians are saddled with $82 billion in student debt) should serve as a very stark and unambiguous warning to conservatives everywhere.
*In September, 2020 , Mr. Wayne Johnson, COO of the Federal Student Aid program under President Trump, said this was actually 85%.