Free public college is a key part of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, but his daring populist proposal is provoking a shrug from the American public.
According to a Gallup poll released Monday, 47 percent of U.S. adults support making public colleges tuition-free, while 45 percent are opposed and the remaining nine percent are unsure.
Americans were more favorably disposed towards another popular Democratic proposal: creating nationwide, free childcare and preschool. Fifty-nine percent supported such a policy and only 26 percent were opposed.
Free college is one of the most notable positions on which Sanders differs from Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state has proposed a plan to make public colleges debt free, but she would still require middle and high-income families to pay tuition. She has criticized Sanders’ plan for allowing even the children of business mogul Donald Trump to attend college for free. Sanders hit back by claiming free tuition would recognize that college is a public good on par with high school. (RELATED: 1 In 4 College Students Okay With Limiting First Amendment For Offensive Speech)
Unsurprisingly, free college saw major differences between different demographic groups. Those aged 18-34 favored free college by a two-to-one margin, while those over age 55 were solidly against making college free. Notably, Americans with college degrees opposed free college 54-39, while those without college degrees supported it 52-39.
The partisan gap on free college was large, but not as vast as might be expected. Twenty-eight percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners opposed making college free, while 23 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners supported it.
Democrats overall supported free college by a major margin, suggesting it could be an issue of strength for Sanders if he follows through on his pledge to contest the Democratic nomination all the way until the party’s July convention.
The poll was conducted April 21-24 with a sample size of 2,024 people. The margin of error was plus or minus five percentage points.
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