How President Biden’s New Student Loan Plan Could Affect Midterm Voter Turnout

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Both the Republican and Democratic parties are gearing up for higher youth voter turnout for November’s midterm elections.

The unveiling of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan August 24 draws attention to young voters and how the plan will affect the results of the midterm elections. Experts say it’s a waiting game.

The plan will forgive up to $20,000 in debt and extend the pause in student loan repayments until the end of 2022. President Joe Biden unveiled the plan last month after much anticipation from Democrats .

Those earning less than $125,000 will receive $10,000 in student loan debt forgiveness, and Pell Grant recipients will be eligible for an additional $10,000.

“I know a lot of people were hoping for a full loan forgiveness, but with what we’re working with right now, I think it’s a very good step in the right direction,” said Nikša Poleksić, president of the University Democrats of the University. ‘Iowa.

Timothy Hagle, associate professor of political science at UI, wrote in an email to The Iowan Daily that the Republicans should do well at midterm because the Democrats are in the White House.

“Regardless of anything else, the political expectation is that student debt reduction would benefit Democrats more than Republicans,” Hagle wrote.

Hagle thinks a medium-term red wave could be happening because many people think rising gas prices and inflation are caused by a Democratic majority. Either way, Democrats have been looking for trouble to motivate their voter base.

“The problem for Democrats, however, is that the plan generated good opposition and could end up motivating a lot of people to vote Republican,” Hagle wrote. “This could include young voters who did not have such debt or who have already paid it off.”

From the 2016 presidential election to the 2020 presidential election, Iowa’s young adult voter turnout increased by 5 percent. In 2016, 50% of Iowa voters between the ages of 18 and 29 turned out at the polls; this figure increased to 55% in 2020.

According to Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan organization promoting voting, midterms do not bring out a high number of young voters compared to presidential elections, as presidential elections see a higher turnout overall compared to midterms. During the 2018 mid-terms, 39.6% of Iowa voters between the ages of 18 and 34 turned out at the polls, the highest percentage since 2002.

Iowa’s youth voter turnout percentage in the 2018 midterm elections was higher than the national average of 31%. High voter turnout in midterm elections attributed to Parkland shooting, Tufts University data shows Civic Learning and Engagement Information and Research Centerwho studies youth civic engagement in the United States

Hagle said the effect of the student loan plan won’t be seen until the midterm election results are released.

“At the end of the day, we probably have to wait and see what happens between now and Election Day to have any real sense of the effect of the proposed plan, if any,” Hagle said.

Courtney Juelich, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, said Iowa’s young voters are unique because they’re concentrated in college towns like Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Des Moines.

Juelich said the student loan forgiveness plan is unique because it could show students that the government cares about the future of young adults and the issues that matter to them.

The current student loan plan, Juelich theorizes, will not increase voter turnout, but may prevent it from declining.

Since August 2022, Johnson County has 46,190 registered Democratic voters, up 2,798 from August 2018 before the last midterm election. Johnson County has 16,462 registered Republicans as of August 2022, down 1,360 from in August 2018.

Poleksić said he hopes the student pardon plan will show students how politics affects their daily lives and motivate them to pay more attention to politics.

“I think this is an action that will help open these people’s eyes, and they can hopefully see that voting matters,” Poleksić said.

Poleksić said he hopes this new plan will positively affect all Iowa Democrats in the November ballot. University Democrats have held public forums for all Democratic candidates in Iowa over the past year, including Admiral Mike Franken, the Democrat who is challenging U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA.

“I hope, especially with a student population, that this is some kind of action aimed at them, that people will realize how important it is to have the right officials in power,” said Poleksic.

Poleksić said he thought Democratic and Republican voters supported the proposal to write off some student loan debt.

“A lot of people on both sides of the aisle have student loans. And I hope that in the long run it will affect voter turnout more than anything,” Poleksić said. “A lot of people see this as an executive action that directly affects them, and it’s something that people generally like to see.”

Ed Cranston, chairman of the Johnson County Democrats, said since the last election cycle in 2020, he’s seen more young people getting involved in politics — especially on campus. Poleksić said the University Democrats club has so far registered 500 students to vote in the 2022 election cycle.

“As for the registrations taking place, now that the students are on campus. And really overwhelming numbers,” Cranston said.

Johnson County Republican Chair Teresa Horton Bumgarner said she’s recently seen more young conservatives speak out more openly about politics.

“I think young people seem to be more interested in politics, and I see more young people now being more conservative,” Horton Bumgarner said.

In addition to the student loan forgiveness plan, Cranston thinks other issues like reproductive rights and the climate crisis are policies young people are concerned about.

“You look at the issues that are on the minds of students — those are the things that are being addressed by Democrats,” Cranston said.

Horton Bumgarner said she thinks the student loan plan will also affect how older adults vote because they are also affected by the student loan forgiveness plan.

“It’s not that people don’t care about student loans, it’s more that if you forgive the loan, you only affect a small number of people,” Horton Bumgarner said.

Horton Bumgarner said Republicans don’t support the plan with the student loan plan because it doesn’t fix the student loan system as a whole.

“If there is a problem with how these people got into this situation, then the system needs to be looked at.”

Horton Bumgarner said that solving the student debt problem requires fixing the whole system.

“Instead of putting a band-aid on the problem and passing the puck, we should give students and their families a clear picture upfront of the true costs associated with their education,” said Senator Joni Ernst. tweeted after Biden announced his plan.

Rep. Marianne Miller-Meeks, R-IA, wrote in a statement after Biden’s announcement, that the student loan forgiveness plan is an irresponsible plan. Miller-Meeks calls the plan a transfer of debt from citizens who have attended college to those who have not.

“It is unfair and undermines students who work to pay tuition and parents who for years have sacrificed and saved for the opportunity of a college education,” Miller-Meeks wrote. “Student loans should be viewed no differently than a mortgage or car loan – the money withdrawn must be repaid by those who benefit from it.”

The president announced the student loan relief plan as an executive order, meaning it didn’t pass Congress. How the student loan forgiveness plan will be executed is still unclear, Hagle said.

Hagle said he saw some people wondering if the president had the power to cancel student loans.

A major concern for Republicans is how the debt will be canceled and whether there will be a tax increase or money taken from a federal program, Horton Bumgarner said. Cranston said he did not know how the plan would be executed.

Hagle said Democrats are likely to see more benefits from the student loan forgiveness plan. Cranston disagrees, saying the plan will help any student with a loan, regardless of political affiliation.

“We’re not reviewing it, because we’re just doing it for the votes. We do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Cranston said. “And people and students are struggling, and they will continue to struggle. And then it really helps the whole economy.

Horton Bumgarner said Congress should have reviewed the student loan program years ago to fix the number of students in debt.

“I think if we look at the whole system, maybe we can fix it for the next batch and do something really positive with our situation so that we don’t have students graduating with tons of debt that they can’t pay back,” Horton Bumgarner said.

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