Mitt Romney undercut President Obama’s latest attempt to shore up support among young voters when he announced that he, too, supports an extension of student loan interest rates, which are set to double in July, from 3.4% to 6.8%. For young adults with bachelor’s degrees, unemployment rates are high and median wages are low. The White House estimates that more than 7 million students would be affected by the rate increase, and has launched a vigorous campaign against the House Republicans who are opposing an extension of the current rates. The Obama administration alleges that Romney’s previous positions on education contradict his current support for the rate extension, but the political calculus behind Romney’s stance is undeniably savvy – at least on the surface.
Overall, Americans show strong support for increased government assistance for students struggling to pay for college. Approximately two-thirds (66%) of the general population say the government should do more to help students pay for college and pay off student loan debt.
Among younger Millennials (age 18-24), a group which is likely to be more directly affected by rising interest rates on student loans, roughly two-thirds (65%) believe that the government should do more to help students pay for college and pay off student debt, even if it means raising taxes or increasing the deficit.
There is, however, significant disagreement among Millennials by political affiliation. Fewer than half (48%) of Republican Millennials agree that the government should do more to help students financially, even if it means raising taxes or increasing the deficit, compared to 65% of Independents and three-quarters (76%) of Democratic Millennials. Republican Millennials are also more likely than Democratic Millennials to believe that the federal deficit is a critical issue (66% vs. 56% respectively).
How Congress will pay for the interest rate extension, which will cost about $6 billion, is as yet unclear. Romney, however, faces more potential flak from his base if Congress does not come up with an acceptable way to pay for the extension without raising taxes or increasing the deficit.