Are Student Debtors a Subconstituency? The Effect of Student Loans on Issue Voting

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Are student loan debt holders issue voters? Presidential candidates are increasing their campaign efforts on policies of student loan forgiveness, thereby assuming that such proposals are targeting a valuable voting bloc that can improve their electoral prospects. However, such implicit claims have yet to be tested. We argue that student loan holders are a subconstituency that is aware of the issue appeals made by candidates and likely to vote based on self-interest. Using data on individual- and county-level measures of student debt, we show that student loan holders are more likely to support candidates who make appeals directly to their situation and that these voters are motivated primarily by self-interest. The robustness of these findings remains after several checks, including propensity score-matching. The article contributes to an underdeveloped literature by showing that the student loan debt crisis has significant ramifications for political behavior and that socio-economic stressors are qualitatively different than debt for political behavior.

Nicholas Jenkins
Graduate Student

My primary research interests are in Congress, interest groups and lobbying, and representation