CFCT polled 16 statements in July 2021 that policy makers and other proponents and opponents of tuition-free college have made to support their position(s). Jack MacKenzie, who coordinated the survey research for CFCT, said, “statements for and against free college show a consistent pattern: Americans believe the programs provide the greatest benefit to individuals -- and they don't believe it's too expensive for government to offer it.”
The statement that had the most net support overall was “lack of money shouldn't keep qualified students from going to college, and government should help.” Net support was calculated by subtracting the percent who strongly agreed with the statement (9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) from the percentage of those who strongly disagreed with the statement (1 or 2).
Full results below
Strong agreement or disagreement with the statements often split along partisan lines. For instance, Democrats net support for the statement beginning “lack of money” was an astounding 54 points, but Republican net support was only 5 points. Independent respondents agreed with the statement by a 24-point margin.
Similarly, Democrat net support for the statement “free college tuition will help more minorities and poor people get a college degree” was 59 points with Republican and Independent net support at 4 and 20 points, respectively.
Among the negative statements tested, there was more disagreement than agreement on the following two statements: “free college tuition would be a major government spending program and is not worth the cost” (-11 point net support) and “America can't afford to make college tuition free” (-7 point net support). CFCT President and CEO Morley Winograd stated, “these results demonstrate once again that Americans think that the government can afford to make college tuition free – and ought to."
The most polarizing statements were “free college tuition programs should be restricted to lower- and middle-class students” and “free college tuition is another government giveaway.” Sixteen percent of the respondents agreed with the idea of means testing free college tuition eligibility (at the 10 level) but an equal percentage disagreed strongly with the idea (at the 1 level). Similarly, for the “government giveaway” statement, 19 percent strongly disagreed (at the one level) while 21 percent strongly agreed (at the 10 level), including 28 percent of Republicans.
Independent net support was highest for the following two statements: “adults who need new and improved skills should be able to get that education and training tuition free,” and “free college tuition would help make our educational system more equitable.” Both received 27-point net support from Independents, which is slightly higher than the overall net support for these statements.
The polling was conducted in July, 2021 in partnership with CollegeAPP, PSB Research and SurveyGizmo with 1,002 respondents age 18+. The sample has a Margin of Error of +/-2.9% and was weighted to US Census on age, gender, race, educational attainment and region of the country.
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