How has the Obama administration’s contraception mandate on religious organizations impacted Barack Obama’s standing?  According to a new Rasmussen poll, it’s had about the impact one would expect after a few days of consideration.  Almost six in ten Catholics now disapprove of Obama’s job performance, and a near-majority strongly disapprove:

Catholics strongly disapprove of the job President Obama is doing as the debate continues over his administration’s new policy forcing Catholic institutions to pay for contraception they morally oppose. While the president’s overall job approval ratings have improved over the past couple of months, they have remained steady among Catholics.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 59% of likely Catholic voters nationwide at least somewhat disapprove of the president’s job performance, while 40% at least somewhat approve. But the passion’s on the side of those who don’t like the job he’s doing: 44% Strongly Disapprove versus 19% who Strongly Approve.

The key point in this poll, though, is that the survey was taken mostly before the White House announced its “accommodation.”  The polling took place from February 6-12, and the supposed recalculation of the rule was announced early on Friday, February 10.  Rasmussen’s report doesn’t give any indication if Obama’s approval rating rose in the three days of polling after the announcement.

Actually, the overall direction of the tracking poll is good news for Obama.  His approval rating rose to 50/49 in the seven days even with the controversy over the mandate raging in the news last week.  The GOP maintains a slight edge in the generic Congressional ballot, however, at 43/41.

The stunning loss of support among Catholics has to worry Obama’s team, however.  He won the Catholic vote by nine points in a year where he won the popular vote by seven.  He can ill afford to hand that vote to the GOP in an election that will certainly be more difficult, especially with a stagnant economy and a Democratic Senate that refuses to perform its constitutional duty by passing a budget.  As The Anchoress writes today at First Things, not only has Obama alienated moderate Catholics, he’s cut the ground out from underneath the Catholic Left that influenced them:

If, upon gauging the dismay of his allies within the church, Obama had truly meant to assuage the consciences of his Catholic allies, he could have done so easily and clearly; instead his words suggested to some that even the narrow conscience clause offered in his first decision was at risk, and his solution looks like a shell game, analogous, as blogger Marc Barnes put it, to trying to force Orthodox Jewish restaurants to sell bacon, but then “accommodating” them by forcing them to “pay a Gentile with a bacon cart to serve pork” for them.

For that matter, if Obama had been genuinely interested in pleasing believers in general and Catholics in particular, he would have conferred with the bishops, and gotten their thoughts on the nuances between direct and indirect co-operation with evil, rather than going around them.

But Obama’s move on Friday wasn’t about nuance; it was about destroying the surprising unity of the “Catholic Right” and the “Catholic Left” on this issue; it was about dividing and conquering. In a deeply cynical move, Obama used Sister Carol Keehan to foment that division; he needed her credibility to reassure the Catholic Left that it could prefer unity with his administration over unity with the church.

His punch was off. Possibly he hadn’t anticipated a block to guard the possession of rights, which are not his to dole out as he sees fit. He seems not to realize, even now–as his administration muddies up the story with talk of costs and savings–that his Catholic allies’ rejection of his HHS Mandate wasn’t about contraception or sterilization, nor could their approval be regained with a skillful uppercut to the men in the miters. What the HHS Mandate has revealed is that the preservation of the freedom of religion–of the churches rights to be who and what they are and to exercise their missions–is worth going to the mat for, no matter which corner you’re coming from.

The Catholic Church is not ambivalent at all about the “accommodation,” either, which complicates matters for liberal Catholics even further:

Human Life International Pres. Father Shenan J. Boquet made the following statement in response to the Obama administration’s proposed “compromise” on the contraception/sterilization/abortifacient mandate:

“We at Human Life International stand with the Catholic bishops and a diverse group of organizations and individuals in rejecting the false compromise offered by the Obama administration in an apparent attempt to gain wider acceptance of the mandate that requires free coverage of contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drugs.

“Having closely examined all available information on the compromise, we are appalled at the cynicism displayed by both its content and the means by which it was announced. The original unjust mandate required that conscientious objectors to this policy would be forced to pay for insurance that will cover morally abhorrent ‘care.’ With the so-called compromise we are still forced to pay for insurance that covers procedures and drugs that directly contradict our religious beliefs. The compromise is a distinction without a difference and merely an accounting trick that does nothing to change the fact that we will have to pay for chemical abortions, sterilizations and contraception for any employee.

“The Obama administration’s verbal engineering is an egregious and blatant attempt to divide certain Catholic organizations from others and from the bishops, all in an effort to secure even the thinnest possible façade of Catholic approval. Sadly, the administration has found prominent organizations to be complicit in this calculated move. It should be noted that though the bishops were not consulted on this compromise, it appears that Catholic Health Association (CHA) and Catholic Charities USA were consulted and their agreement secured before the bishops even had an opportunity to examine the proposal. The Obama administration’s proposal was clearly not an attempt at good faith dialogue and genuine compromise.”

Even worse, Obama has given the Catholic hierarchy a reason to fight ObamaCare, which they had supported to some extent:

“Under the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’), the HHS has entirely too much unchecked power over health care in the United States, and given their history of disregard for both religious liberty and human life, we have no confidence that the federal government can be trusted to administer health care that respects the dignity of every human person from conception to natural death. Not only do we support legislation currently being considered in Congress to ensure clear and strong protection for freedom of religion and conscience, but we also call upon our political leaders to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety so that it may be replaced by a system in which human life and dignity, and the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, are secured.

“This compromise offered by President Obama demands that we compromise our religious beliefs and our commitment to the health and life of women and children while they compromise nothing. We at Human Life International stand with our Bishops and call upon the administration to honor the freedom endowed by God and honored by our nation’s Bill of Rights. We will render unto Caesar only that which belongs to him and not what belongs to God.”

Obama has not yet solved the problem he created with this mandate.  I give it another three days before the White House expands the exemption to all religious organizations in an attempt to end the controversy.