The vast majority of young Americans likely to vote want Biden to act on student debt — but many don't believe their votes make 'a real difference,' Harvard poll finds

The vast majority of young Americans likely to vote want Biden to act on student debt — but many don't believe their votes make 'a real difference,' Harvard poll finds
The majority of young voters want Biden to act on student debt, per Harvard poll.Chuck Savage
  • A Harvard poll found 85% of young Americans want Biden to take some form of action on student debt.
  • Still, it found 42% of voters under 30 don't believe their votes "make a real difference."

Young Americans might be pessimistic about the impact of their votes — but that doesn't mean they don't have ideas about how elected officials can act on their behalf.

On Monday, Harvard Kennedy School's Institute of Politics released results of a national youth poll that surveyed over 2,000 18-to-29 year olds on their opinions on policy issues and voting. With the midterm elections approaching, young voter turnout is becoming an increasingly prominent issue among lawmakers, and the poll found that while youth turnout in 2022 is likely to match that of 2018, 42% of them agree with the statement, "I don't believe my vote will make a real difference," up from 31% in 2018.

But they still want to see President Joe Biden act on the issues they care about. According to the poll, 85% of young Americans favor some form of government action on the student debt crisis, with 38% of them favoring full debt cancellation. Of young Democrats likely to vote in November, 43% favor canceling student debt for everyone, compared to 13% of likely Republican young voters.

"In the past two election cycles, America's youngest voters have proven themselves to be a formidable voting bloc with a deep commitment to civic engagement. Our new poll shows a pragmatic idealism as they consider the state of our democracy and the concerning challenges they face in their lives," Institute of Politics Director Mark Gearan said in a statement. "Elected officials from both parties would benefit from listening to young Americans and as we head into the midterm elections."

As Biden's approval rating remains low, Democratic lawmakers have increased the urgency of carrying out progressive priorities, like student-loan forgiveness, before midterm elections in order to maintain the majority in Congress. Biden most recently extended the pause on student-loan payments an additional four months, through August 31, but if he chooses to restart payments before November, it'll make outcomes at the polls a lot less favorable for his party.


Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — a leading lawmaker advocating for student-loan forgiveness — told the LA Times last week that canceling student debt is a key way for Democrats to emerge from the midterms victorious.

"The idea that young people today should be shackled by debt just to try to get an education so they can try to compete is fundamentally wrong," Warren said.

California Rep. Ro Khanna agreed with Warren in a recent interview with Insider, saying that young people are "very clear, and very passionate, they expect the Democrats to deliver on student debt relief. They say this is something we promised, the president promised."

Khanna was referring to the pledge Biden made on his campaign trail to approve $10,000 in student-loan forgiveness for every federal borrower, but with that pledge remaining unfulfilled, many lawmakers and advocates believe it's time for the president to deliver.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently said Biden will "make a decision" about canceling student debt or extend the payment pause again before the end of August, and Democrats and young voters are hopeful that decision will amount to broad relief for millions of federal borrowers.