Raymond and Louise Denny of La Center were surprised last week to receive a mailing from Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, entitled "2009 Future of American Health Survey."
After reading it, their surprise turned to outrage.
They were especially irked by the following:
"It has been suggested that the government could use voter registration to determine a person's political affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"
Raymond Denny, a retired insurance underwriter, characterized the question as akin to "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?"
"It's so blatantly lopsided," he said. "I called them up and said, 'This is ridiculous!' They just said, 'All right.'"
The RNC did not return a call requesting comment.
Raymond Denny's larger concern is that in the volatile political environment surrounding health care reform, those and other survey "questions" in the mailer could quickly gain legitimacy and be accepted as fact, inciting fury at town hall meetings across the country.
Not all the questions are incendiary. One asks whether it is justified to ration health care, another whether health care decisions should be made by a patient and his or her doctor, not "government bureaucrats in Washington, D.C."
But the survey also asserts that "Rationing of health care in countries with socialized medicine has led to patients dying because they were forced to wait too long for treatment," and asks, "Are you concerned that this would be inevitable in the U.S. under the Democrats' plan?"
The Dennys, transplants to Clark County from Connecticut, aren't sure why they are on GOP mailing lists. They've tried to get their names removed. He describes himself as a liberal Democrat. "Both of us have been social liberals and fiscal and constitutional conservative," he said.
"I wrote insurance policies," Raymond Denny said. "I know how words can be used to make people do what you want them to do. The law allows a lot of latitude with politicians. That I understand. Some of these techniques are used by both parties. But this to me seems way over the edge of normal politics."
Not so, say two professional pollsters.
It's standard practice to use such faux "surveys" to raise money for a variety of causes, said Portland pollster Mike Riley. "It's common, trying to stir the pot to see what kinds of issues get attention."
"Both parties do that," Riley said. "They are using some of the hot-button issues to see what activates the voters. It's politics as usual within the party faithful. No one that I know puts any credibility in these types of polls."
Riley recalled a recent fundraising "survey" sponsored by Democrats that attempted to link issues of child safety and gun ownership. One question asked whether it is important to keep children safe and to keep them away from guns. The implication, he said, was "that guns shouldn't be in homes where children are present."
A tip-off that a survey really is a fundraising tract, Riley said, is when questions cover more than one issue. "It's called a double-barreled question" and would not be used by a professional pollster, he said.
Portland pollster Bob Moore agreed.
"It's a fundraising appeal, is what it is," he said. "Everyone does it — Democrats, anti-tax groups, environmentalists. The audience that receives it has given to that organization at some point in time and is on the list to receive solicitations."
If such tactics "weren't effective, they wouldn't be using them," Moore said.
Denny said his own views on health care reform are straightforward: "I favor any option that extends availability to people."
"My feeling is, we have had erosion in the number of people who are covered," he said. "The amount of health care has diminished. We just can't have that in society. It hurts on a lot of levels."