As 2020 Presidential campaigns begin in earnest, free college tuition retains majority support among all major age and political sub-groups. But, as new nationwide polling shows, Americans would prefer their state government, rather than Congress, create and implement programs making college tuition-free.
Nationwide polling conducted in March 2019 by PSB Research for the Campaign for Free College Tuition (CFCT) reveals that 29 percent – including 31 percent of Democrats and 30 percent of Republicans – want “state government” to create/implement free college tuition programs, compared to 15 percent who would rather have Congress implement such a program. Support for Congressional action on free college was highest among Democrats (19 percent) and Millennial Americans aged 18 to 34 (21 percent) and weakest among Republicans (11 percent) and Americans over age 50 (9 percent).
Another 35 percent – including 41 percent of both Democrats and Independents and 20 percent of Republicans – said they support the idea either way. Twenty-one percent of Americans indicated they oppose the idea no matter which level of government delivers the benefit.
Overall, three-fourths (75 percent) of all Americans want their state to provide free tuition at public college or universities to any academically qualified student. However, in comparison to a November 2018 poll taken just after the mid-term elections, there was some unexpected results.
Support of state free college programs for Americans aged 18 to 34 declined from 94 percent in November to 84 percent in March, with a 16-point decline in “strong support” from 69 to 53 percent. According to CFCT President Morley Winograd. “this decline could, in part, be attributed to 2020 Democratic presidential candidates enumerating positions on federal action to make college tuition free, as this age group has espoused the strongest support for Congressional action in this area. They may see focusing on state action as a strategy that would delay the enactment of this idea nationally.”
“Overall,” Winograd said, “we are pleased that support for state free college programs has remained remarkably consistent. In nine polls between December 2016 and March 2019, Americans have indicated between 73 and 81 percent support for state programs providing free college tuition at public colleges and universities. Few, if any, other issues have enjoyed consistent support at such high a level during this time period.”
The March poll also included three new questions measuring the impact of particular messages explicitly tied to bipartisan or partisan appeals. The most popular was the bipartisan message, “free college programs are working successfully in both Democratic and Republican-controlled states including Tennessee, Rhode Island and Oregon.” Seventy-seven percent of respondents indicated that such a statement made them somewhat or much more likely to support the idea.
The second message included information on Democratic presidential candidates supporting the idea. When respondents were told that the concept “is supported by Democratic presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren”, 63 percent said they would be somewhat more or much more likely to support the idea. This message generated predictable partisan splits. Democrats indicated they were 89 percent more likely to support the idea, while 72 percent of Republicans indicated that such a statement would make them less likely to support tuition-free college.
The third statement “the concept is supported by Republican governors of states such as Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky” received nearly identical overall support – 65 percent. However, it received surprisingly bipartisan support with about two-thirds of both Democrats (67%) and Republicans (66%) indicating this statement would make them more likely to support tuition-free college.
The PSB Pulse Poll is a monthly, national representative survey of attitudes on a range of social and political issues. PSB conducted the survey March 7-14 with 1,000 respondents age 18+. The sample has a Margin of Error of +/-3.10% and was weighted to US Census on age, gender, race, educational attainment and region of the country.
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