What Georgia’s Senate Election Results Mean for College Students
Published on January 8, 2021
- Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won Georgia's Senate seats.
- Young, diverse, college-educated voters turned out in droves, securing Democrats' victory.
- A Democratic-controlled government could pave the way for free college and debt forgiveness.
In a typical runoff election, like the kind triggered in Georgia after no Senate candidate received enough votes in November's general election, fewer voters turn out the second time around. Those who do are more likely to be older and white. But in the recent Georgia runoff, which flipped the state's two Senate seats blue, younger and more diverse voters helped give Democrats the edge.
A record 3 million early votes were cast before election day on January 5. The dramatic turnout, as well as the national political fervor behind it, points to the key role of the Georgia Senate race in determining U.S. policy for the next four years.
A record 3 million early votes were cast before Georgia’s runoff election on January 5.
Many of the policy issues at stake are top concerns for college students, including the environment, healthcare, and college affordability. Passing large student debt forgiveness and free-college plans — supported by both President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — require congressional support.
Had Georgia reelected either David Perdue or Kelly Loeffler, both Republicans, the GOP would have retained majority control of the Senate. But narrow wins for Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock now split the chamber 50-50, giving Harris the tie-breaking vote — and redefining what a Biden administration might look like for students.
How a Democratic Government May Impact College Students
Democratic control of the U.S. government means that sweeping education reforms, once touted only by progressive Senator Bernie Sanders, could become reality. Still, the margin of control is narrow enough that higher education changes will require bipartisan support.
Here are some of the top policies on the table that could impact college students.
A Democratic government is likely to issue more — and more generous — pandemic relief. While many dependent college students have yet to receive a stimulus check, further education bailouts could be bigger and once again stipulate that a substantial portion of the funds go directly to students.
Once considered workable for only small, socialized countries, a growing number of Democrats support 100% subsidized college tuition plans. As the U.S. higher education system continues to stumble throughout the COVID-19 crisis, far-reaching reforms could gain political momentum.
Recently, Democratic leaders and organizations united to ask the next president to forgive most student debt by executive order. Commentators remain divided over the legality of canceling debt "with the pen" as opposed to passing a bill through Congress. So far, Biden has endorsed canceling $10,000 in federal student debt for each borrower through legislation. A Democratic majority leaves both avenues to debt forgiveness open.
Biden has repeatedly censured President Donald Trump for not issuing top-down health and safety guidance to schools and colleges. The national regulations Biden says he will implement in his first 100 days could include campus-specific instructions, such as elevated requirements around masks, testing, and eventually vaccinations.
Youth Voters Propel Georgia Democrats to the Senate
Exit polls taken during the general election show that support for Georgia's Senate candidates divided along fairly predictable demographic lines. Young, liberal, and moderate voters preferred Democratic challenger Ossoff, as did Black and Latino/a voters and college graduates.
Early numbers from the special election's exit polls reveal a similar story. Voters of color, college-educated voters, and voters under 30 all turned out in force to elect the state's new Democratic senators.
The importance of Georgia's runoff election in national politics prompted an outpouring of campaigning, funding, and outreach never before seen in a state election. A substantial share of these efforts were directed at mobilizing youth voters. College students threw their weight behind this Senate race and could very well be among the first to feel its effects.
Feature Image: Michael M. Santiago / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America