Santorum’s Slippery Slope

Rick Santorum has suddenly slipped back down to fourth place in New Hampshire, after comments he made about gay marriage leading to polygamy, according to a Suffolk University poll. The pollster cites Santorum’s drop in support among independents and young voters as the reason for his backslide:

Romney leads with 39%, followed by Ron Paul at 17%, Newt Gingrich at 10%, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman tied at 9%, and Rick Perry at 1%.

First, we don’t know for sure whether the abrupt drop in support was based on Santorum’s gay marriage comments, but as the Suffolk poll points out, the timing seems to correspond with the polling. New Hampshire primary voters are expected to be more apathetic on social issues (outside of gun control) than Iowa caucus-goers. But if vocal opposition to gay marriage can now actually hurt Republican candidates with New Hampshire primary voters, then what does that say about the future of this issue?

Independents and young conservatives are becoming more supportive of gay marriage (last year was the first that Gallup found that national support for it topped 50 percent). And while the “slippery slope” argument that Santorum often makes has valid points, it hasn’t seemed to be particularly convincing to these groups.

From a legal standpoint, it’s not a stretch to see how some of the arguments for gay marriage could also be used to argue for polygamy. But from a societal perspective, gay marriage is no longer primarily viewed as a deviant act akin to polygamy, bigamy, or incest. In fact, comparing it to these things actually appears to have hurt Santorum in the polls — a red flag that gay marriage opponents will likely find troubling.