Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans Reports

Survey: Which Presidential Candidate is Best Suited to Tackle Student Debt & the Cost of Higher Education?

Updated Apr 17, 2023   |   14-min read

As the 2020 presidential election inches closer, the Democratic field of over 20 candidates are duking it out over who will challenge President Trump.

The cost of higher education and record student loan debt levels seem to have never been discussed more in a presidential election.

The Democratic candidates have varying opinions, with some such as Senator Bernie Sanders wanting to cancel all $1.52 trillion in outstanding student debt, while others like Senator Elizabeth Warren have proposed a forgiveness program based on income.

The Republican Party has been relatively silent on the topic, although President Trump has released a 10-point plan that would deter colleges and universities from raising tuition prices by limiting the amount of federal funds dedicated to loan programs available to students at a given school.

Based upon the whirlwind of American politics as it gets closer and closer to election time, LendEDU decided to poll 1,000 adult Americans that currently have student loan debt and plan on voting in the 2020 primaries and election.

With the rate of increasing college costs ballooning far past the rate of inflation, and with there being $1.52 trillion in outstanding student debt, these issues are critical for candidates to tackle if they want to win over voters.

Our poll consisted of questions dealing with these topics and how they will impact how Americans plan to vote in the 2020 election.

Full Survey Results

(All results derive from an online survey of 1,000 adult Americans that currently have student loan debt and intend on voting in the 2020 presidential election.)

(1) Which of the following parties are you registered with or do you most closely align with?

  • 37% of respondents answered “Republican Party”
  • 48% of respondents answered “Democrat Party”
  • 15% of respondents answered “Neither/I’d rather not say.”

(2 – Asked only to those who answered “Democrat Party” to Question 1) Which of the following Democratic presidential candidates are you most likely to vote for in your state’s primary?

  • 40% of respondents answered “Bernie Sanders”
  • 5% of respondents answered “Pete Buttigieg”
  • 11% of respondents answered “Kamala Harris”
  • 13% of respondents answered “Elizabeth Warren”
  • 24% of respondents answered “Joe Biden”
  • 2% of respondents answered “Cory Booker”
  • 1% of respondents answered “Amy Klobuchar”
  • 4% of respondents answered “Other”

(3) Which of the following topics is most important to you in deciding who to vote for in the 2020 presidential election?

  • 32% of respondents answered “Healthcare”
  • 6% of respondents answered “Gun reform”
  • 19% of respondents answered “Higher Education/Student loan debt policy”
  • 15% of respondents answered “Immigration reform”
  • 10% of respondents answered “Climate & environmental reform”
  • 3% of respondents answered “Foreign policy”
  • 15% of respondents answered “Economic policy”

(4) On a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the most important), how important is the issue of student loan debt and the high price of college to you in deciding who to vote for in the 2020 election?

  • 0% of respondents voted “1”
  • 3% of respondents voted “2”
  • 4% of respondents voted “3”
  • 4% of respondents voted “4”
  • 9% of respondents voted “5”
  • 13% of respondents voted “6”
  • 20% of respondents voted “7”
  • 20% of respondents voted “8”
  • 10% of respondents voted “9”
  • 17% of respondents voted “10”

(5) Which of the following 2020 Democratic presidential candidates do you think is best suited to tackle the price of higher education and the $1.52 trillion in outstanding student loan debt?

  • 39% of respondents answered “Bernie Sanders”
    • 49% of Democrats answered “Bernie Sanders”
  • 3% of respondents answered “Pete Buttigieg”
    • 4% of Democrats answered “Pete Buttigieg”
  • 7% of respondents answered “Kamala Harris”
    • 9% of Democrats answered “Kamala Harris”
  • 13% of respondents answered “Elizabeth Warren”
    • 18% of Democrats answered “Elizabeth Warren”
  • 18% of respondents answered “Joe Biden”
    • 16% of Democrats answered “Joe Biden”
  • 1% of respondents answered “Amy Klobuchar”
    • 1% of Democrats answered “Amy Klobuchar”
  • 19% of respondents answered “Other”
    • 3% of Democrats answered “Other”

(6) Do you believe the candidate you selected in Question #5 is better suited than Donald Trump to tackle the price of higher education and the $1.52 trillion in outstanding student loan debt?

  • 65% of respondents answered “Yes”
  • 21% of respondents answered “No”
  • 14% of respondents answered “I’m not sure”

(7) If the general election was between the candidate you selected in Question #5 and Donald Trump, who would you vote for?

  • 63% of respondents answered “The Democratic nominee I selected in Question 5.”
  • 28% of respondents answered “Donald Trump”
  • 9% of respondents answered “Not sure/Neither”

(8) Are you in favor of a policy that would forgive all $1.52 trillion in outstanding student debt, both public and private, from borrowers?

  • 71% of respondents answered “Yes”
    • 83% of Democrats
    • 58% of Republicans
  • 18% of respondents answered “No”
    • 7% of Democrats
    • 31% of Republicans
  • 11% of respondents answered “I’m not sure”
    • 10% of Democrats
    • 11% of Republicans

(9 – Asked only to those who answered “No” or “I’m not sure” to Question 8) Are you in favor of any student loan debt policy changes? If so, choose the one that best fits your view:

  • 26% of respondents answered “No changes to current student loan policies”.
  • 21% of respondents answered “Free community college but not free four-year public or private college”
  • 17% of respondents answered “Income-based student loan debt relief (if you make this much, you can have this much debt forgiven)”.
  • 11% of respondents answered “Partial student loan forgiveness of up to $50,000 per borrower in student loan debt”.
  • 10% of respondents answered “Free college (community & four-year) for all”.
  • 9% of respondents answered “No student loan debt payments until you meet a certain income threshold”.
  • 5% of respondents answered “Expanded student loan forgiveness programs other than the ones that currently exist”.
  • 1% of respondents answered “Complete student loan forgiveness for college dropouts, but not for college graduates”.

(10) If the eventual Democratic candidate is proposing to forgive all student debt, there is a fear that current student loan borrowers will stop making payments on their student loan debt in anticipation of full forgiveness. Knowing this, are you going to stop repaying your student loan debt in the hopes that the Democratic candidate wins and ultimately forgives all student loan debt while in office?

  • 18% of respondents answered “Yes”
  • 70% of respondents answered “No”
  • 12% of respondents answered “Unsure”

(11) Knowing this, are you going to hold off on refinancing in the hopes that the Democratic candidate wins and ultimately forgives all student loan debt while in office?

  • 31% of respondents answered “Yes”
  • 51% of respondents answered “No”
  • 18% of respondents answered “Unsure”

(12) If a candidate is proposing to forgive all student debt, does that make you more or less likely to vote for them?

  • 63% of respondents answered “More likely”
  • 12% of respondents answered “Less likely”
  • 25% of respondents answered “No difference”

(13) Do you think President Trump has done a good job managing the student debt crisis and the rising cost of higher education?

  • 22% of respondents answered “Yes”
    • 6% of Democrats
    • 44% of Republicans
  • 60% of respondents answered “No”
    • 85% of Democrats
    • 31% of Republicans
  • 18% of respondents answered “I’m not sure”
    • 9% of Democrats
    • 25% of Republicans

(14) Rank the following topics in order of most important (1) to least important (10), when you are deciding who to vote for in the 2020 presidential election?

  • “Healthcare” was ranked the most important with a mean ranking of 3.2.
  • “Bringing down the cost of higher education/Reducing student loan debt” was ranked the second most important with a mean ranking of 3.7.
  • “Gun control reform” was ranked the third most important with a mean ranking of 4.0.
  • “Climate & environmental reform” was tied for the third most important with a mean 4.0.
  • “Immigration reform, mainly at the U.S.-Mexican border” was ranked the fourth most important with a mean ranking of 4.2.
  • “Foreign policy” was ranked the fifth most important with a mean ranking of 4.3.
  • “Infrastructure” was ranked the sixth most important with a mean ranking of 4.5.

(15) Complete student loan forgiveness would likely lead to American’s offsetting the cost through increased taxes. Do you believe it is fair for taxpayers to shoulder the cost of student loan forgiveness when it was individuals who were making the choice to borrow student loans?

  • 35% of respondents answered “Yes”
  • 45% of respondents answered “No”
  • 20% of respondents answered “Unsure”

(16) For former student loan borrowers that you have completely repaid their student loans, do you believe it is fair for them to pay for a complete student loan forgiveness program through increased taxes?

  • 33% of respondents answered “Yes”
  • 49% of respondents answered “No”
  • 18% of respondents answered “Unsure”

(17) In your opinion, which of the following solutions would be more effective in fixing the nation’s student loan debt/cost of higher education problem?

  • 59% of respondents answered “Capping tuition prices, holding colleges more accountable for affordability”
  • 32% of respondents answered “Forgiving all $1.52 trillion in student loan debt”
  • 9% of respondents answered “Not sure”

See the full survey here and have the ability to break down the data by geographical location, political party, etc.

Observations & Analysis

If Complete Forgiveness Becomes a Possibility, Some Respondents Indicate They Would Stop Repaying Their Loans in Anticipation…

Based on our data, 71% of total respondents are in favor of a policy that would forgive all $1.52 trillion in student loan debt, however as seen below, Democratic voters are strongly in favor of it (83%) and Republicans are in majority favor of it (58%).

This graphic exhibit answers from Q10 and Q11. It exhibits that over 18% of total respondents would stop repaying their student loans if a Democratic candidate who is proposing to forgive all student debt wins the election. With 12% of respondents being unsure if they would stop paying their student loans, leaving a large grey area of possible missed payments.

…and Cost Loan Providers (Private & Public) Hundreds of Billions!

The volume of respondents responding “yes” or “unsure” to the aforementioned question is concerning, especially considering that this amount could result in billions of dollars worth of missed payments to both the federal government and private companies who issue student loans. Our figures predict upwards of $276 billion of the $1.52 trillion in outstanding student debt not being paid.

This was calculated by using our report on the most recent average student loan statistics. Total outstanding debt is at $1.52 trillion and there are 45 million student loan borrowers in America. 18.20% of respondents say they will not pay their student loans off in the hopes that the Democratic candidate wins.

Although passing legislation of this kind would be extremely difficult no matter the unity of the government, people are still willing to stop paying and possibly default on loans based on promises.

What Policies Do People Care About for 2020?

Policy stances change every election cycle for both of the major American parties. Two election cycles ago, neither incumbent President Obama nor Mitt Romney focused on the cost of higher education or student loan debt. Now, it is one of the most important topics of discussion for the 2020 elections.

The Most Important Topic in Deciding Who to Vote For

Ranking of the Most Important Topics When Deciding Who to Vote For (Low Score = More Important)

There’s a significant number of topics highlighted in this election cycle so we wanted to see where student debt and the cost of higher education placed.

Interestingly, out of all seven topics listed, “Student debt & cost of higher education” placed second overall for both Democrats and Independent/Other respondents, only being beaten out by “Healthcare”. It placed third for Republican respondents, being beat out by “Healthcare” and “Immigration reform”.

Importance of Student Loan Debt From 1 to 10 (High Score = More Important)

The issue of student debt and the cost of higher education is extremely important to voters. In this question, 68% rated the importance of those two topics at 7 or above, exhibiting just how important these topics are to voters and why candidates need to take them seriously.

People Support Forgiveness Until Asked About How it Will be Paid for

Forgiving Student Loan Debt – Party Breakdown

Interestingly, both parties support policy for forgiving all student loan debt, even if Democratic respondents are 25% more in favor of it than Republicans.

Likeliness to Vote for a Candidate Who is Promising to Forgive Student Debt

Supporting Forgiveness for Student Debt & How it Will be Paid for

Although presidential candidates make a plethora of promises while out on the campaign trail, few are ever fulfilled. The same rules can apply to the student debt crisis. Although candidates will try to implement policies of large-scale forgiveness (if elected), it will be extremely hard for them to do so.

Although 71% of respondents are in favor of a policy forgiving $1.52 trillion in outstanding student debt, both public and private, from borrowers (Q9):

  • 34% responded that it is not fair for taxpayers to shoulder the cost of student loan forgiveness when it was individuals who were making the choice to borrow student loans (Q18).
  • 42% responded that it is not fair for former student loan borrowers that have completely repaid their student loans, to pay for a complete student loan forgiveness program through increased (Q19).

How to Solve the Issue of Student Debt

When presented with three options for how to fix the student debt issue, some respondents supported forgiving all student debt to fix the issue (32%), though the majority (59%) would rather see colleges held accountable for affordability and cap tuition prices, so they no longer rise past the rate of inflation.

Electability vs. Ideology

Although candidates may have certain ideological views, especially with the issue of dealing with student debt or gun control, and voters will agree with those ideological views, that does not necessarily mean they will vote for them. This will be analyzed below.

Democratic Presidental Candidate Voting Breakdown

Presidential Candidate Best Suited to Tackle Student Debt

As seen in the above two graphs, there is a difference in who Democrat respondents will vote for and who they think is best suited to handle the cost of higher education and student debt.

For instance, 40% of Democrat respondents say they will vote for Bernie, but 49% of Democrat respondents think he is the best-suited candidate to handle the student debt issue.

The opposite happens with Joe Biden, where only 16% of Democratic voters think he is best suited to handle student debt, but 24% of Democrat respondents will vote for him.

Voter’s Choice vs. Their Ideological Choice for Handling Student Debt

Although the vast majority of Democrat respondents stuck with their vote for the presidential nominee, there were some exceptions. Bernie Sanders won double-digit percentages in each other candidate’s votes for being best suited to tackle the price of higher education and student loan debt, but he couldn’t capture those votes.

Voters were also largely fractured in each candidate’s votes, except Bernie Sanders, where only sub-15% of Democrat respondents willing to vote for him do not think he is the best to manage the student loan debt crisis. Joe Biden, for instance, has over 50% of his potential Democrat respondents thinking he is not the best to handle the student loans.

Candidate Breakdown and Who Respondents Will Vote For

This exhibits all the respondents’ answer to which primary candidate is best suited to handle the topic of student debt and the cost of higher education, and compares them against incumbent President Trump.

This exhibits all the respondents’ answer to which primary candidate is best suited to handle the topic of student debt and the cost of higher education, and compares them against incumbent President Trump to see who respondents will vote for.

Comparing the two charts, side-by-side highlights electability between President Trump and the respective opponent. Looking at the data, the Democratic nominee, no matter who may be, appears to have a strong upper hand on Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Methodology

All of the data that can be found within this report derives from an online survey commissioned by LendEDU and conducted online by polling company Pollfish.

In total, 1,000 adults Americans aged 18 and up and who passed the screener question with the correct answer of “Currently owe some amount of student loan debt and likely to vote in the 2020 presidential election” were surveyed. The Screener question was, “What describes your situation best?” with seven different answers that were only slightly different, forcing only the people that fit our description best to pick the correct answer.

Respondents were also screened using Pollfish’s age filtering feature to ensure we surveyed appropriately aged consumers.

All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.

See more of LendEDU’s Research