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AARP to Candidates: Tell Voters How You Will Alleviate Student Debt

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Link to full survey results

RICHMOND – AARP Virginia today released findings from a recent voter survey that reveal voters’ worries about crushing student loan debt and desire to see public officials enact policies that will offer relief.

As part of its long-standing, nonpartisan work to have candidates discuss their plans on important issues, AARP Virginia asked likely voters age 18 and older about their concerns about student debt. The survey was conducted in August by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University. AARP Virginia will release findings on other specific issues in the coming weeks.

"Candidates for office need to discuss their plans to address the growing burden of student debt, which prevents many older Virginians from retiring and younger Virginians from getting needed healthcare," said AARP Virginia State Director Jim Dau. "This is a problem for Virginians of all ages and backgrounds, who are looking for leadership as they get ready to vote."

The survey revealed that nearly half (44%) of all likely voters in Virginia say that they or loved ones have faced challenges due to student debt, including 59% of voters ages 18-49 and almost three of every ten (29%) voters ages 65-plus.

"This report confirms what we've known all along, that crippling student debt has a major negative influence on people's lives." said Jared Calfee, executive director of Virginia21, a nonprofit representing young Virginians. "And these negative ramifications are not just in the years immediately following college, but throughout a person's adult life, all the way up through retirement."

Student debt has been a major onus on voters’ lives and those of their loved ones. One-third of voters ages 18-49 say it prevented them from getting needed healthcare; 60% of voters 50-64 say that they couldn’t save for retirement; and one-in-six voters 65-plus (17%) say that student debt prevented them from retiring.

Almost three-fourths (74%) of Black voters say that student debt prevented them from saving for retirement and more than half (56%) said it stopped them from starting a business. Most Hispanic voters report that student debt has blocked them and their loved ones from buying a home (62%) and getting needed healthcare (54%).

Almost 6-in-10 likely voters (59%) – with nearly identical support among age groups – support an increase of state government support for public universities so more people can afford college tuition.

More than 3-in-4 (77%) likely voters say the state government should protect borrowers from predatory loan practices and increase oversight of the largely unregulated student loan servicer industry.

In addition to releasing these survey findings, AARP Virginia this week will engage voters and candidates with social media efforts that highlight the problem of student debt as an election issue, including a digital video. AARP Virginia is also reaching out to voters with information and resources to help them vote safely, whether in-person or from home, which can be found at www.aarp.org/VaVotes

With approximately 1 million members in Virginia, AARP is the largest organization working on behalf of people age 50+ and their families in the Commonwealth. AARP does not endorse or contribute money to candidates, political parties, or campaigns.

Survey Methodology

The results of this poll are based on 800 interviews of registered Virginia voters who are likely general election voters, including 277 on landline and 523 on cell phone, conducted August 15-23, 2021. A likely general election voter is one who has voted in at least two of the last four general elections or is newly registered in the last 12 months and indicates they are enthusiastic and plan to vote in the upcoming November 2 election. The margin of error for the whole survey is +/-3.6% at the 95% level of confidence. This means that if 50% of respondents indicate a topline view on an issue, we can be 95% confident that the population’s view on that issue is somewhere between 46.4% and 53.6%. The margin of error for subgroups may be higher. All error margins have been adjusted to account for the survey’s design effect, which is 1.1 in this survey. The design effect is a factor representing the survey’s deviation from a simple random sample and takes into account decreases in precision due to sample design and weighting procedures. In addition to sampling error, the other potential sources of error include non-response, question wording, and interviewer error. Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding. The response rate (AAPOR RRI Standard Definition) for the survey was 12%. Five callbacks were employed in the fielding process.

Live calling was conducted by Dynata. The data reported here are weighted using an iterative weighting process on region, age, race, sex, and education to reflect as closely as possible the population of Virginia’s November 2, 2021 electorate.

About AARP

AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence and nearly 38 million members, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability, and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation's largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit www.aarp.org, www.aarp.org/espanol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspanol and @AARPadvocates, @AliadosAdelante on social media. ​

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