Student Debt Disappointment Today, Progressive Voter Turnout Tomorrow

Student Debt Disappointment Today, Progressive Voter Turnout Tomorrow

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It’s time to transform our emotional response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on student loan forgiveness into action at the polls next year

On June 30, the United States Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 ruling that struck down the Biden Administration’s proposed plan to forgive millions of dollars in student loan debt to more than 43 million American borrowers. In the intervening weeks, emotions regarding the ruling continue to run hot and social media users continue to be vocal about their opinions regarding the court’s ruling.

Unsurprisingly, feelings about the ruling – much like the ruling itself – seem divided along party lines. With a majority of liberal-identifying social media users expressing outrage at the court’s overreach and disappointment with the socially negligent slant of the ruling, and a majority of conservative-identifying social media users expressing support for the court’s decision. Even so, the overall sentiment across social media platforms in response to the ruling remains overwhelmingly negative. This is largely in part of a growing dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court itself, and perhaps an indication that many people from both sides of the party line – recognizing the realities of high interest rates and of the ever-increasing costs of higher education – believe that education should be both more affordable and more accessible.  Therefore leading many to favor some kind of assistance for student loan borrowers.

BIG TAKEAWAY: The dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling on student debt forgiveness is an important and emotionally-charged motivator for liberal-leaning advocacy and therefore Democratic voter turnout in the upcoming election cycle. In addition, while there is significant partisan gridlock over the value of expansive student loan forgiveness, the subject still more successfully transcends party lines than many other social issues and is, therefore, a potentially lucrative motivator for generating Independent votes during the upcoming election cycle, as well.

SLEEPER TAKEAWAY: The Supreme Court’s ruling on loan forgiveness has once again motivated many liberal-leaning social media users to express their opinion that it’s time to expand the number of seats on the court to balance out the current conservative majority, which is a second and equally as powerful motivator for generating progressive votes in the upcoming election cycle. 

Let’s take a closer look at the discourse.

The Supreme Court’s ruling unsurprisingly resulted in a monumental spike in conversation around the topic of student loan forgiveness, with a majority of the responses driven by objectively negative emotions. Following the ruling, the Biden Administration announced a new plan to forgive the student debts of more than 800,000 borrowers who had been making on-time payments for at least twenty 20 years. This resulted in a smaller, but still significant, spike driven by negative emotions from both conservative-identifying individuals and liberal-identifying individuals who perceive this new version of the plan as inadequate.

The motivating factors for those who support the original student loan forgiveness plan and are angry about the Supreme Court’s ruling fall into four primary categories:

  1. Congress supported COVID-19 relief loans for businesses during the pandemic, but the Supreme Court blocked a similar type of program for individuals;
  2. There is an imbalance between the amount of money that Congress is willing to spend on foreign aid with the amount it’s willing to spend on aid for American citizens; 
  3. Student loans currently have the highest interest rates in decades, and the cost of higher education has never been more expensive; and
  4. The post-Supreme Court forgiveness plan only aids those who have been paying their loans for at least 20 years, which is primarily the oldest generation of borrowers, for whom the cost of higher education was comparatively much lower.

Negative sentiment about student loan relief primarily comes from a conviction that it’s “unfair” to forgive loans for those who chose of their own volition to attend expensive colleges and universities and to those who have already “worked hard” to pay off their debts in advance of any offer of forgiveness.

The Supreme Court’s decision has also once again heated the conversation around the necessity to expand the number of seats on the court itself and to appoint a more diverse group of judges in terms of age, culture, and experiential background, or as many social media users indicate, judges who are “more in tune” with the current state and needs of the country.

The bottom line is clear: Democrats and liberal-leaning independents are feeling highly emotional and uniquely activated about both the subject of student debt relief itself and the subject of equality and balance on the Supreme Court. An important ingredient in voter enthusiasm and turnout is an emotional investment in a cause, and now is the time to harness these emotions, to think strategically about how to keep the conversation alive, and to focus on linking voters’ zealous feelings with an understanding that voting is the only way to achieve significant policy change and judicial balance in the wake of the upcoming election cycle.