GOP front-runner Donald Trump's poor standing among female voters has attracted most of the attention in recent weeks, but his candidacy may be even more toxic to voters under age 35.
A new NBC News/SurveyMonkey election tracking poll pitting Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton against her two possible Republican rivals finds that young voters lean Democratic regardless of the candidate, but they're practically allergic to Trump.
Against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Clinton wins the vote of 18 to 24-year-olds by just 7 points. Against Trump, her margin rises to 25 points. There's a similar gap for older millennials, ages 25 to 34, who give Clinton a 19-point edge against Cruz and a 33-point edge against Trump.
While Cruz also performs modestly better than Trump among women, the difference is substantially more muted. Both Republicans lose female voters overwhelmingly to Clinton.
It's not entirely clear why Trump fares so much worse than Cruz among young voters, but there are a few possible explanations.
Millennials as a group may lean toward Clinton, but they're not particularly excited about her. According to exit polls in Democratic primaries, they've voted by astonishing margins for her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who wasn't tested against the Republican candidates in this poll.
Cruz, who's Clinton's junior by 23 years, has aggressively courted young voters, according to The New York Times, hiring an "army" of millennial state directors and emulating then-Senator Barack Obama's “grass-roots, guerrilla campaign that empowered young people" and helped him defeat Clinton the first time she ran for president in 2008.
But if younger voters aren't completely sold on Clinton, they're almost united in opposition to Trump -- and that alone could seal her victory among millennials.
Another explanation may be that young voters simply don't know enough about Cruz to feel the same level of distaste for him that they do for Trump. While the NBC/SurveyMonkey question didn't ask how familiar voters were with each candidate, a recent Economist/YouGov poll shows that 18 percent of Americans under 30 said they didn't know how they felt about Cruz, while just 4 percent said the same thing about Trump.
Another recent poll conducted by the Democratic firm GQRR found that while millennials' interest in the election has ticked up sharply since last year, they're still paying far less attention to it than other age groups.
But if these numbers hold, nominating a candidate who is this unpalatable to young voters could create a serious problem for the GOP -- and not only in this year's election. Research suggests that young voters who develop loyalty to one party often stick with it.
"The ages 14 to 24 are the most formative years for political leanings, according to hundreds of thousands of survey responses...This idea isn’t so different from what marketers have learned: They often focus on making pitches to the young because older people have already developed brand loyalties," the Times' Toni Monkovic wrote last month. "The problem for the Republican brand is that a third straight election in which the young vote decisively for Democrats — even if the G.O.P. wins this November — could imprint negative perceptions that last decades."
The SurveyMonkey tracking poll interviewed 12,116 voters through an online panel between March 28 and April 3.