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Students pull a mock "ball & chain" representing the $1.4 trilling outstanding student debt at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Majority in US Back Free College Tuition and Student Debt Cancellation, New Poll Finds

The proposals of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been dismissed as "extreme" by some of their opponents, but most Americans support such ideas.

Julia Conley

A majority of voters support the bold proposals for free college tuition and the wiping out of student debt put forward by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 Democratic primary, according to a new Hill-HarrisX poll out Friday.

The survey found that out of more than 1,000 respondents, 58 percent of people said they support government-funded public college tuition and the cancellation of student debt for the more than 44 million Americans who currently hold it.

"We will make public colleges and universities and HBCUs debt-free. And what we will always also do, because this is an incredible burden on millions and millions of young people who did nothing wrong except try to get the education they need, we are going to cancel all student debt in this country." —Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)The student debt crisis has left young Americans as a group owing more than 1.5 trillion for their college and graduate educations, and is largely blamed for keeping millennials from being able to buy homes and start families. 

At the Democratic debate on Thursday night, Sanders restated his support for wiping out student debt and allowing all Americans to attend two- and four-year state colleges tuition-free.

"What we will also do is not only have universal pre-K, we will make public colleges and universities and HBCUs debt-free," the Vermont independent senator said. "And what we will always also do, because this is an incredible burden on millions and millions of young people who did nothing wrong except try to get the education they need, we are going to cancel all student debt in this country."

According to the Hill-HarrisX poll, 72 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independent voters support free college tuition and student debt cancellation, while 40 percent of Republicans back the plans.

While both Sanders and Warren have proposed offering free public college to all Americans, Warren's debt cancellation program would only be offered to families who earn under $250,000 per year—the bottom 95 percent of earners. Sanders has proposed wiping out student debt for all those who carry it.

Sanders would fund his plan by imposing a speculation tax on stock trades, raising an estimated $2.4 trillion over 10 years, while Warren's Ultra-Millionaires Tax would fund her proposal.

At the Democratic debate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) suggested progressive candidates are "extreme" and have made "promises [they] can't keep," while South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg said in an earlier debate only that he supports "reducing" student debt and addressing college "affordability."

On MSNBC Thursday, Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner said that while poll numbers have fluctuated slightly for the top candidates in recent weeks, surveys have consistently shown that Americans support free college tuition and student debt forgiveness.

"Polls are snapshots in time," Turner told Katy Tur, adding that Sanders "understands the cries, the fears, the needs, and the dreams of the American people in this country. Hello Green New Deal, hello college for all, canceling student debt, standing up for the working people of this country."


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