Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he can't understand why so many young people vote Democratic.

During a speech on economic freedom at the University of Chicago on Monday, the candidate was asked to address crippling student loans and the high unemployment rate for younger Americans.

"I joke and I don't mean to be flip with this because I actually see truth in it," Romney explained. "I don't see how a young American can vote for a Democrat."

"I apologize for being so offensive in saying that, but I catch your attention," he continued. "But I mean that in the humor there's some truth there. And I say that for this reason: That party is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation and amounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for."

"These debts are not frightening to people my age because we'll be gone. They ought to be frightening to death to people your age who are concerned about your future, wonder what your tax rates are going to be. And by the way, wonder whether Social Security and Medicare will be there for you."

The former Massachusetts governor added that young people should support Republicans in order to "preserve this extraordinary unique nation in the history of the Earth."

"You know, sometimes I shake my head," he said. "We're not doing as good a job as I want to do connecting with young people across the country. You guys ought to be out working like crazy for me and for people like me, conservatives who want to keep the cost of government down and give you a brighter future."

BuzzFeed's Zeke Miller noted that Romney first used the line during his victory speech after the Puerto Rico primary: "I don't see how anyone who is a young person could vote for a Democrat, I'm going to be honest with you."

Earlier this month, The New York Times observed that among Republican primary voters ages 17-29 in Mississippi, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum led Romney 45 percent to 24 percent.

Watch this video from CNN, uploaded March 19, 2012.